LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced last week that the Project Report and the Environmental Document have been completed for the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon over U.S. Highway 101, marking a major milestone for the initiative. The project now moves into final design and engineering (the “blueprints” phase) and is slated to begin construction in late 2020.
The planned wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon is a public/private partnership between Caltrans, the National Park Service (NPS), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the California State Coastal Conservancy and The Santa Monica Mountains Fund.
The project responds to more than two decades of NPS research on the conservation needs of LA’s mountain lions and ecosystems and advances long-standing local efforts to establish habitat connectivity for wildlife across U.S. Highway 101. “The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority applaud Caltrans’ work in completing this environmental review, a critical phase in making a safe passage for wildlife across the 101 and delivering on our 30 plus years of work to preserve habitat linkages,” said Rorie Skei, Chief Deputy Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
The public support for this wildlife crossing, which will potentially be the largest of its type in the world, the first of its kind in California, and which will serve as a visionary model for urban wildlife conservation, has proven unprecedented. A total of 8,859 comments were received in response to the draft Environmental Document, with only 15 opposed. Comments in favor came from a diverse group of constituents, including a letter from the eight previous mayors of the City of Agoura Hills, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, actress Carolyn Hennesy (of Cougar Town fame), and the Monrovia High School Environmental Club.
A collaboration by experts, public agencies, conservation organizations and community partners, along with public input, proved key to achieving this significant milestone. Ongoing active support and participation from the early stages of the project came from elected officials such as California State Senator Fran Pavley, (retired) and California Assemblymember Richard Bloom, along with the newly elected California State Senator Henry Stern. “A project this unique and of such considerable size and scope always has a wide diversity of opinions and ideas—this process has helped create the best possible solution for area wildlife that also meets the needs of the local community,” said Senator Fran Pavley. “We thank everybody who participated in the public process, which ultimately made this project stronger.”
This milestone was also completed as a result of funding from NWF’s #SaveLACougars fundraising campaign, which also enjoys widespread support with donations from across the country and the globe. “Our sincerest thanks to the more than 1,500 people and organizations who have contributed to the #SaveLACougars campaign to date, such as the California State Coastal Conservancy, Annenberg Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which helped fund this integral environmental document,” said Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, California Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation, who leads the #SaveLACougars campaign. “When we started this campaign a few years ago, the crossing was just an idea and had no funding attached to the project. With the generous donations of our supporters, we have raised over $3.7 million, have achieved every fundraising target to date and know this trend will continue as we work to achieve our goal of $10 million by the end of this year to keep Caltrans on schedule.”
#SaveLACougars is primarily seeking private philanthropic dollars, although public dollars earmarked for conservation have been, and will continue to be, sought. The campaign is not seeking to divert state transportation or other taxpayer funds from needs such as schools, hospitals, bridges, or road repairs.
In addition, a separate and recently released report published in March of 2018 summarizes the recommendations from some of the world’s foremost experts on wildlife connectivity and crossing structures and combines them with landscape characteristics and wildlife data to prioritize locations for wildlife crossings. The experts’ findings noted that the site at Liberty Canyon provided the best location in that region for improving connectivity and an overpass structure the best solution for serving the broadest range of species.
Research by the National Park Service has shown that mountain lions could face extinction in the Santa Monica Mountains within 50 years because of a fragmented landscape. "Twenty years of research shows that the biggest conservation challenge facing the Santa Monica Mountains is isolation by roads and development," said David Szymanski, Superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "This forward-looking project will help to end the isolation and reconnect natural habitat on both sides of the highway."
For more information or to donate to the project visit www.savelacougars.org
For the recently released Environmental Document visit Caltrans’ project site at http://www.dot.ca.gov/d7/projects/libertycanyon/
About The National Wildlife Federation
One of the oldest and largest conservation groups in the country, the National Wildlife Federation with its over six million supporters nationwide is a strong voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat, as well as inspiring young people today to become conservation-minded adults. Visit www.nwf.org for more information.