Proposed Los Angeles metropolitan wildlife area sparks controversy over saving vital habitat – Daily News

For decades, homes and wildlife have coexisted in the mountains and hills of Southern California, where residents readily remember their first encounter with a bobcat that jumped a fence, a bear that wandered into their backyard, or a mountain lion that crossed a grassy trail. But given the vast evolution that symbionts could end up with, biologists and environmentalists have warned that building in desirable neighborhoods threatens corridors that are critical to wildlife.

Wildlife corridors create a path for deer, bears, cats, and other animals to navigate urban areas and forage for food even as climate change, drought, and overdevelopment drive animals from their traditional habitats.

A P-23 mountain lion crosses a road in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on July 10, 2013. Los Angeles and Mumbai, India are the only megacities in the world with populations over 10 million where big cats breed, hunt and maintain territory within urban boundaries.  Long-term studies in both cities examined how big cats roam their urban forests, and how people might better live with them.  (National Park Service via AP) 109
A P-23 mountain lion crosses a road in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on July 10, 2013. Los Angeles and Mumbai, India are the only megacities in the world with populations over 10 million where big cats breed, hunt and maintain territory within urban boundaries. Long-term studies in both cities examined how big cats roam their urban forests, and how people might better live with them. (National Park Service via AP)

“The wildlife corridor system is like your body’s circulatory system,” said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources and planning for the Santa Monica Mountains Preserve. “In some places, there are larger arteries but in some places there are very narrow arteries. … If you block the connection, you break the system. Whatever is on one side of that blockage dies.”

He said that although wild lands and residential areas have been mixed for a long time, the system is fragile.

A proposed ordinance published by Los Angeles city planners this year seeks to protect the habitat connection in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains bordered by Interstates 405 and 101 and partially bordered by Sunset Boulevard. The proposed wildlife area will directly impact mountain communities in the Hollywood Hills, Hollywood, Bel Air, Beverly Crest, Laurel Canyon, Sherman Oaks and Studio City. The proposed district’s southern boundary follows a stair line just north of Franklin Street, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and smaller streets in Beverly Hills.

The proposed law follows the 2016 Wildlife Pilot Study that was released after Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a proposal to balance wildlife habitat with private property development.

While the concept of protecting habitats from development is not uncommon, experts say the proposed concept from Los Angeles is unique and elaborate.

In recent years, laws addressing connectivity in urban areas have gained momentum across the country.

A recently passed Florida Wildlife Ordinance defines a network of wildlife green spaces spanning 18 million acres. The ordinance was drafted in response to the threat of extinction for the Florida panther, which since 1972 has been on the United States’ endangered species list. In Vermont, it included what are called “Special Feature Overlay Areas” Protecting environmental resources It includes wetlands, meadows, steep slopes, and a forest area used by deer.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted in 2017 to direct its planning department to create the Habitat and Wildlife Connection Corridors, which include 420,000 acres or roughly 30% of Ventura County.

However, the proposed Los Angeles ordinance, along with protections in Ventura County, contains some of the most comprehensive and detailed laws in the country, said Christine Penrod, director of SC Wildlands, a liaison specialist at the Large Landscape Conservation Center who works with Tanzania government to create wildlife corridors there.

If the law is approved by the Los Angeles City Council, it will place restrictions on future construction in the wildlife area. Existing homeowners won’t be affected if they don’t make major changes to their structures. But homeowners, who decide to add floor or demolish more than 70% of their home, will need to obtain a new building permit. They will also need to install wildlife friendly fencing around their homes.

Southern California is one of the 25 “global biodiversity hotspots” in the world, meaning that it has a large number of species found nowhere else in the world. As climate change progresses, Penrod said, connected habitats will be very important as species try to move closer to coastlines, where temperatures are cooler.

“All of these juveniles need to be able to move somewhere, and children often don’t share the same range of home as their parents,” Penrod said. “They have to go somewhere else. That’s why these traffic corridors are so important.”

Edelman said at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy that he couldn’t “think of anything as comprehensive in California, going into the kind of minutiae” as the ordinance now on the Los Angeles Department of Planning’s office.

On Wednesday, July 13, more than 200 people joined a lively 4.5-hour virtual hearing hosted by the Los Angeles Department of Planning so the public could share their thoughts on the ordinance. The crowd was divided, and there were passionate arguments on both sides.

One resident said the law could strip him of the ability to retire or pay for his children’s education. Other residents expressed concerns that they did not have enough time to study the proposal and its impact on their properties.

It supports biodiversity, wildlife protection and climate change mitigation, said Dan Harrison, a resident who can be affected. However, he felt there was a disconnect between some of the restrictions in the ordinance and those goals.

“I’ve done everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint, but this proposal takes away my equity,” Harrison said. “It’s great to say people should have open spaces, (but) there should be respect for private property rights which I think is lacking in some of this one-size-fits-all law.”

Another resident, Alison McCracken, criticized the level of communication with residents. She added that the law “offers the most radical property regulation the Hills have ever seen.”

Supporters of the ordinance encouraged city planners to make the proposed area in the Santa Monica Mountains a wildlife sanctuary.

Filmed with a P-22 mountain lion in front of the Hollywood Sign, Steve Winter is photographed by Sharon Gainop after laying the groundbreaking for a bridge over Highway 101 to allow mountain lions and other animals to move across the highway, Friday, April 22, 2022 in Agoura Hills.  (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)
Steve Winter, the P-22 mountain lion pictured in front of the Hollywood Sign, is photographed by Sharon Gainop after a bridge is constructed over Highway 101 to allow mountain lions and other animals to move across the highway, Friday, April 22, 2022, in Agoura Hills. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

Encino resident Glenn Bailey, speaking in his support, encouraged the city to expand the area’s boundaries by hopping across Interstate 405 to take land west of the 405, and to take “meaningful action for our wildlife.”

Longtime Sierra Club leader Marcia Hanscom urged city officials to approve the law as soon as possible. “It is my hope that these important planning regulations will be extended in the future to both areas west of Interstate 405 and coastal areas of Los Angeles,” she said.

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