You’ve been driving for hours, it’s dark, and all you see are two glowing eyes right before your car whaps into something so heavy it sets off your airbag. Once the car comes to a stop, your heart sinks at the sight of a body in the road.
Sometimes it’s a mule deer, an elk, a tortoise, or even a mountain lion. But as many as 2 million of these collisions between wildlife and vehicles happen every year. It’s worsened in places like the American West, where highways separate rural expanses, and new development crowds out species.
The construction of engineered solutions to this problem is on the rise, in the form of tunnels, overpasses, and fences that offer strategic wildlife crossings, but it’s still far from a given that they’ll make it into transportation budgets. To close funding gaps, or to entice public agencies to pony up, nonprofits and donors have been stepping in, including a recent $1 million commitment from a prominent Los Angeles funder.
The Annenberg Foundation recently announced the challenge grant, matching donations toward a wildlife bridge over the 10-lane 101 that would allow cougars and other animals to cross over to the Santa Monica Mountains. It could be the largest wildlife crossing in North America, with costs as high as $60 million. Proponents like the National Wildlife Federation are in the process of raising public and private funding for the span—state transportation dollars are too tight—to help the beleaguered big cats living on the outskirts of California development.
Annenberg is a major funder of projects in Greater Los Angeles, but has also backed quite a lot of wildlife and animal welfare work, making this a natural draw.
- Behind an Annenberg Grant for Spay and Neuter Efforts in Los Angeles
- Annenberg Foundation: Grants for Animals and Wildlife
Such crossings are widespread in Europe, but road improvements for wildlife have been slower to catch on in the United States, and funding can’t always be folded into transportation project budgets. As a result, we’re seeing some creative combinations of government and private funds, from both philanthropy and business, to nudge things forward.
In one striking case in Kremmling, Colorado, hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones put up $5 million to match funds against the state department of transportation, triggering a $46 million project to build seven wildlife crossings.
There are other examples, such as in Northern California, where a series of tunnel projects are in the works that would provide ways for mountain lions, deer, and other species to cross a dangerous stretch of Highway 17. Funding is coming from a variety of sources, including fundraising of $6.5 million by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, with an anonymous donor matching funds.
Assuming they can get past the concept of funding state highway projects, these wildlife crossing projects are ripe for philanthropists. They are exactly the sort of thing funders fall all over themselves for, in which a relatively small commitment can attract much larger state and federal funds—private dollars can provide a fund-matching incentive, not to mention cover for government officials looking to validate a project.
And like other philanthropic faves such as energy efficiency, once you put the initial money up, it’s truly a win-win, saving human and animal lives, and huge dollars. One study found that the U.S. spends $8 billion per year on the consequences of animal collisions.
Hopefully, as conservationists draw more attention to the issue, federal and state transportation departments will take wildlife crossings more seriously, accounting for the full consequences of the roads we’re building. In the meantime, drive safe.