The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing

By Annemarie Donkin
Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      October 1, 2021

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The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing
Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation Thanks to a $25 million donation by the Annenberg Foundation, the Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing will carry the name of its benefactor, the “Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.” Design rendering by Living Habitats and the National Wildlife Federation,
The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) #SaveLACougars team and the Annenberg Foundation announced that the wildlife crossing over the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills will be named the “Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.” The name, announced at a September 24 press conference in the Hollywood Hills, honors American philanthropist Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation’s $25 million donation to allow critical species such as endangered mountain lions to migrate across the 101 among habitats in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Simi Hills, and the Los Padres National Forest. (See related article on Page 12). Mountain Lions Struggling to Survive To date, the crossing will be the largest wildlife crossing in the world and reconnect a long-fragmented ecosystem to help protect the endangered mountain lion population and other wildlife that make their home in the Santa Monica Mountains. The National Park Service (NPS) reports that twenty-three mountain lions have been struck and killed by traffic in their study area since 2002. According to Wildlife Biologist Jeff Sikich, area mountain lions and bobcats are struggling to survive due to urban development and genetic inbreeding that results from wildlife being unable to cross the highway and roads and find suitable mates. These felines are in desperate need of access to the natural areas on both sides of the 101 freeway. Public/Private Partnership The project is a public-private partnership that leveraged the expertise and leadership of dozens of organizations and institutions. The core partners include Caltrans, the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy / Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, and the National Wildlife Federation. The project partners also added a world-renown design team led by a landscape architectural practice, Living Habitats LLC, that collaborates with Caltrans and coordinates with a broad team of wildlife crossing experts in the planning and design development of the project. The Official Unveiling The official naming ceremony took place following a series of major funding milestones that leaves the campaign with only $6.2 million left to raise for construction costs. If the project stays on track with fundraising, the $88 million crossing will break ground in late 2021 and be completed by the end of 2023. The project has been spearheaded by Beth Pratt, California Regional Executive Director & Leader, #SaveLACougars, National Wildlife Federation California state leaders and special guests at the ceremony included Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of California Department of Natural Resources; John Donnelly, Executive Director, Wildlife Conservation Board; Assemblymember Richard Bloom; Alan Salazar, Chumash and Tataviam elder; Clark Stevens, Executive officer, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains; and Rorie Skei, Chief Deputy Director, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Cinny Kennard, Executive Director, Annenberg Foundation, spoke of the $25 million donation to the crossing. “Throughout the global pandemic, drought and extreme heat, amid these challenges, we maintain hope,” she said. “We take action; the Liberty Canyon crossing is a difference-maker that is capturing the imagination of California and the entire world so that 10 million people in the County can coexist with remarkable biodiversity.” Nicholas Rodriguez, District Director for Representative Ted Lieu, revealed that they have put in a $5 million budget request for the wildlife crossing. “We want to assure biodiversity and prevent extinction of species like mountain lions,” Rodriguez said. “With such a loss of quality habitat, movement is often a common response, and roads present a significant barrier that make their historic habitat less bearable; this funding provides a safe way to cross the 101 freeway.” David Szymanski, Superintendent, National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, spoke of the critical role the wildlife crossing will play in the area. “After groundbreaking research on mountain lions for 20 years, this makes scientists happy,” he said. “The protection of the Santa Monica Mountains has kept nature alive in the city. While we can’t match the stewardship of Chumash or the Tataviam, we have a big problem with freeways cutting off habitats, rat poison, and so many other challenges. Yet, by funding the wildlife crossing, the Annenberg Foundation and all donors big and small, we thank you so much!” Beth Pratt closed the press conference by revealing the name of the wildlife crossing. “Thank you, we hit our fundraising target,” Pratt said. “We are about $6 million short to break ground on time in December. It’s all that stands in the way of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. Please, whether it’s a $10 or $10 million donation, I’m going to keep my promise—not on my watch will I let this wildlife population go extinct.” To learn more about the #SaveLACougars campaign to build the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon visit:
Annemarie Donkin
      October 1, 2021

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October 1, 2021