The effort to build a wildlife crossing into the Santa Monica Mountains has received a million dollar boost from the State Coastal Conservancy.
The board of the conservancy voted unanimously on Thursday to disburse the money to the California Department of Transportation to conduct the environmental assessment and develop initial designs for a possible crossing through the 101-Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills.
Officials leading the effort to build the crossing said they were ecstatic with the decision.
“We really applaud the [State Coastal Commission]. It just recognized the specialness of this project and how it would restore an ecosystem and also save mountain lions,” said Beth Pratt, California Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “We’re overjoyed.”
Pratt said that prior to the vote, the campaign had raised more than $30,000 of the estimated $3.5 million dollars needed to get the project shovel ready.
For years, efforts at building a crossing at the location have failed due to lack of funding. Pratt said that the $1 million commitment makes this the furthest that such an effort has gone.
“There’s not a lot of funding pots for the design and the engineering. There’s more options for the construction, but they’ve just been stuck in this not-having-a-product, so this is a big milestone,” Pratt said.
The National Wildlife Federation plans to begin a fundraising drive, asking contributors to match the $1 million distribution.
More money will need to be raised beyond the research phase of the project, however. Actual construction costs would depend on whether an overpass or a tunnel is selected for the crossing. Early estimates for a tunnel put the cost at $10 million. An overpass is expected to cost more.
Mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains have been shown to be among the most genetically isolated west of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple members of the population have been killed by vehicle traffic, including a male lion near where the proposed crossing would go.
A National Park Service official said that the money could help alleviate the inbreeding and isolation facing the population.
"The future of pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains got a little bit brighter today,“ said Kate Kuykendall, a spokesman for the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Hopefully this funding will lay the groundwork for a safe wildlife crossing that will connect populations that are currently separated by the 101 Freeway,"