Following a contentious 11-hour hearing last week, Ventura County planners unanimously voted to recommend a resolution supporting safe passage in Southern California — for wildlife.
The advisory resolution backing a network of protected “wildlife corridors” and other limits to land use in the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Padres National Forest is considered a key step in protecting the area’s populations of black bears, coyotes, mule deer, foxes, badgers — and mountain lions.
It’s also a part of a grand vision to develop future wildlife crossings to help animals traverse highways in the area, which is next to Los Angeles County.
Some restrictions in the proposed ordinance would include such things as limits on fencing, reduced use of lighting at night and constraints on development along streams, which are used by wildlife.
J.P. Rose, counsel for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, supported the proposed ordinance.
“Southern California’s patchwork of freeways and sprawl were built with little thought for their impacts on mountain lions,” Rose told HuffPost. “Without proactive measures to protect and enhance habitat connectivity, we will lose these lions forever.”
The local population of mountain lions tracked by scientists appears to be particularly vulnerable to road traffic as the big cats brave busy roadways to seek fresh territory. Government officials estimate that more than 100 mountain lions are killed every year on California roads.
A nearly 6-year-old female mountain lion with her third litter of a pair of year-old cubs was found dead last year on Malibu Canyon Road off the Pacific Coast Highway just west of Los Angeles, apparently struck by a car. The female, dubbed P-23 by scientists, had been tracked by researchers since she was just weeks old.
“Unfortunately, her life came to an end prematurely due to the challenge of navigating the complex road network in this area,” Jeff Sikich, biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said at the time in a statement.
Mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains also suffer from the lowest genetic diversity of any population in the West because of the deadly challenges of highways blocking access to a wider population of mates.
The Ventura Planning Commission’s 5-0 vote recommending a package of protections for “Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridors,” which included some modifications from the original resolution, was only advisory. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up the issue in March. If passed the measure would be implemented in zoning regulations.
The resolution was opposed at the Thursday hearing by several ranchers and some other property owners in the area, as well as by representatives of the oil industry. The proposed ordinance was backed by Rose’s group, the Sierra Club, Los Padres ForestWatch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, among many other environmental groups.
“These wildlife corridor protections are a critical first step in ensuring the long-term viability of the wildlife that not only call Ventura County home but define its rugged character and rich natural history,” said ForestWatch’s conservation director, Bryant Baker.