The Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved an augmented grant of $20 million for construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass Crossing over U.S. Highway 101 in the Liberty Canyon area of Los Angeles County. At the same Aug. 26 quarterly meeting, the WCB approved approximately $26 million in grants for another 26 projects and announced two new board members.
The grant, awarded to the National Wildlife Federation, augments WCB’s initial $4.76 million grant approved in August 2020 to construct a wildlife bridge over the 10 lanes of U.S. 101 in the Santa Monica Mountains. In the year since that agreement was passed, severe drought has put additional pressure on wildlife in the area and created an urgent need to start construction. With these funds, construction will likely begin this fall.
“Implementation of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass Crossing will be a huge benefit to mountain lion and other important species in Southern California and will protect the important biodiversity of this region,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The collaboration among agencies and the public to advance this project has been monumental and we are pleased to provide the funding necessary to break ground on this project in the fall.”
“This is a huge step forward,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “Not only will this crossing at Liberty Canyon be the largest wildlife crossing of its kind in the world, it is emblematic of the bold and creative solutions we need to protect California’s wildlife as our state continues to grow. Nature-based solutions like this crossing are also essential for combatting the climate crisis and our work to conserve 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. The National Wildlife Federation and all local leaders and groups working together on this effort deserve great credit. We need more of these landmark collaborations to tackle the challenges we now face together.”
The Santa Monica Mountains, located in a key biodiversity hotspot in the continental U.S., are home to numerous plant and animal species, including a local mountain lion population at risk of extinction due to habitat fragmentation. U.S. 101 crosses these mountains and creates a barrier to genetic movement of mountain lions and other wildlife, affecting the entire ecosystem. The historic drought facing Southern California has made the situation all the more critical, leading wildlife to risk crossing the freeway in search of new habitat.
“Today’s bold investments by the Wildlife Conservation Board – made possible by the leadership of Governor Newsom and the Legislature – will foster safe passage and genetic connectivity for populations of wildlife species like the mountain lion, whose habitats have been severely fragmented by human development,” said Mountain Lion Foundation Chief Executive Officer Debra Chase. “These critical crossing projects will help support survival for many species and quite possibly prevent the extinction of essential animals like Southern California’s threatened mountain lions. We hope today’s action is just the beginning of an exciting and needed chapter in California’s efforts to ensure the viability of wildlife despite the myriad threats they face.”
The Liberty Canyon area, near the city of Agoura Hills, has been identified as the ideal location for a wildlife crossing, with prime habitat already protected on both the north and south of U.S. 101. When completed, the bridge itself will add one acre of new habitat in addition to a restored riparian corridor, stream and native habitat on either side of the freeway.
“The Wildlife Conservation Board is proud to be partnering on this important project that will provide safe passage for wildlife across U.S 101 in the city of Agoura Hills, reducing wildlife death, allowing for the movement of animals and improving genetic diversity among these currently segregated populations,” said WCB Executive Director John Donnelly.
The cooperative project includes Caltrans, CDFW, the State Coastal Conservancy, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation. It has raised more than $51 million of additional non-WCB funds.
In addition to the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass Crossing, the WCB approved approximately $26 million in grants for an additional 26 projects to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Funded projects include:
• A $6 million grant to CDFW for a project to administer a block grant to reduce the negative effects of drought on fish and wildlife passage including but not limited to fish impediment removal, voluntary drought agreements and forbearance/land fallowing type projects located in various counties throughout the state.
• A $4.9 million grant to The Wildlands Conservancy to acquire approximately 7,344 acres of land for the protection of oak woodlands, annual grassland and open meadow areas along with a mixed conifer forest, including riparian corridors, salmonid streams, coastal watersheds and habitat linkages located near the community of Alderpoint in Mendocino and Trinity counties.
• A $1.38 million grant to National Forest Foundation for a cooperative project with the U.S. Forest Service to enhance forest health and reduce hazardous fuels through selective thinning and reforestation activities on approximately 550 acres in Tahoe National Forest in Yuba County.
• A $1.98 million grant to Groundworks San Diego - Chollas Creek for a cooperative project with the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Water Resources and the City of San Diego to remove a concrete channel and restore riparian habitat on Chollas Creek in the City of San Diego.
Funding for these projects comes from a combination of sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.
The WCB also announced the appointments of two new board members, Kathryn Phillips and Damon Nagami. Phillips is an environmental policy advocate who retired in 2021 as director of Sierra Club California, where she served as the lead lobbyist and policy advocate in Sacramento for Sierra Club in California. She was appointed by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Nagami is a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and director of NRDC’s Southern California Ecosystems Project, which focuses on increasing equitable access to nature for low-income communities of color and protecting open space and wildlife habitat across Southern California. He was appointed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
For more information about the WCB, visit wcb.ca.gov.