There was much handshaking and congratulations at the official groundbreaking for the start of the much-needed wildlife crossing to be constructed over the Ventura 101 Freeway, at Liberty Canyon in Woodland Hills.                                                                            

The event was held on April 22 — Earth Day, which was also celebrated.  Attendees included Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Holding a golden shovel, the governor posed for photos with representatives from conservation organizations who’ve worked on the crossing that is reported to be the largest crossing of its kind in the world.                       

Named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, it is praised for being the first to be funded largely through private donations along with public support.

At a cost of roughly $90 million, the 210-foot pathway to go over 10 lanes of busy traffic and pavement will be a bridge for landlocked wildlife that are dangerously traveling across freeways.                                                                            

The need for the wildlife crossing couldn’t be overstated as another mountain lion was killed by a vehicle on the San Diego 405 Freeway just one day prior to the groundbreaking.

“These tragedies are preventable if California invested in more wildlife crossings,” said J.P. Rose, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The numbers of mountain lions and other wildlife have significantly decreased as more development encroaches on areas they inhabit. Researchers have estimated that the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains could become extinct within 50 years 

“We are not going to let this mountain lion population go extinct on our watch,’’ said Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation — which is credited for leading the campaign for the wildlife crossing.   

  It was also noted that the mountain lion’s death was the second in less than a month.

Cars traveling on freeways not only have caused too many deaths of mountain lions but have also created dangerous barriers that pen them in and have thwarted them from moving across the region to breed with other genetically diverse mountain lion populations. 

A UCLA study released earlier this year indicated reproductive defects caused by inbreeding among mountain lions who cannot freely roam because they are cut off by freeways, and too often die attempting to make dangerous crossings. Scientists studied two mountain lion populations living in the Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Ana ranges with serious physical signs of inbreeding that include deformed tails, testicular defects and a 93 percent abnormal sperm rate. In the study Audra Huffmeyer, the lead author, wrote, “This is a serious problem for an animal that’s already endangered locally.”

The loss of mountain lions impacts the balance of other wildlife and it’s hoped that this new wildlife crossing will lead to an increased population.

This crossing project is still shy of raising all of needed funds. It’s estimated to be completed in the fall of 2024 with a design to look like a natural habitat.

“I do want to just thank every single one of you, all the remarkable leaders. I don’t ‘talk’ about the elected officials — I’m talking about all of you leaders in your own right that helped advance this cause and will inspire young people, and will inspire examples like this all across the rest of the country and across the rest of the world,’’ Newsom said.

“It’s about restoring a sense of balance to our natural world,” said Wallis Annenberg, foundation chairman for whom the wildlife crossing is named. “It is about bringing more attention to an ingenious solution so urban wildlife and ecosystems like this one can not only survive, but thrive.’’