Bridge for wildlife to safely get across the 101 Freeway breaks ground for Earth Day

Coinciding with Earth Day Friday, crews broke ground on the much-anticipated wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway in Liberty Canyon designed to provide relief for landlocked mountain lions and other animals in Southland mountains.

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The roughly $85 million Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is envisioned as the largest crossing of its kind in the world, spanning 210 feet over 10 lanes of highway and pavement. It is also the first to be significantly funded through private donations along with public support.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be at 10 a.m. at the site, about a 10- minute walk from the Liberty Canyon Trailhead.

The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world. It is being developed following 20 years of studies from the National Park Service that found roads and urban development are deadly for animals trying to navigate the Los Angeles area. Urban development has also created islands of habitats that can genetically isolate the region's animals.

The start of construction comes one day after a mountain lion was fatally struck by a vehicle on the 405 Freeway in the Brentwood area, highlighting the need for safe routes that Los Angeles' diverse wildlife can access.

RELATED: Mountain lion hit and killed on 405 Freeway a day before wildlife crossing groundbreaking

"This week was supposed to be one of celebration as we mark the groundbreaking of a wildlife bridge in Agoura Hills. Instead, we're saddened by the violent death of yet another mountain lion," said J.P. Rose, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These tragedies are preventable if California invested in more wildlife crossings, which protect both wildlife and people from dangerous collisions. I hope our leaders in Sacramento take a serious look at the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act, a sensible piece of legislation that will bring more wildlife crossings to the state."

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The mountain lion's death Thursday in the Brentwood area was the second in less than a month. Another lion was killed by a vehicle on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on March 23.

Researchers have estimated that the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains could become extinct within 50 years without an influx of genetic diversity. The lions are largely isolated due to freeways that act as barriers to movement across the region. The crossing aims to provide a connection between the small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and the larger and genetically diverse populations to the north.

The crossing is named for the Annenberg Foundation, a major financial contributor to the effort. The effort is a public-private partnership that includes 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 design team is being led by Living Habitats LLC.

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