Conservation funds could prevent development

Bill targets wildlife protection

With the passage of Senate Bill 85 extending wildlife conservation funding in the state through 2030, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will have the power to purchase several properties for open space preservation—even land that’s been zoned for a commercial real estate development in Agoura Village.

Introduced by state Sen. Henry Stern (D-Calabasas) and passed by the Legislature in June, the bill gives $50 million to Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy projects.

Joe Edmiston, conservancy executive director, said a portion of the money will go toward the Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor and a proposed $60-million wildlife bridge over the 101 Freeway that will allow mountain lions and other wild animals to roam farther.

“The wildlife corridor is the most important thing we’re doing,” Edmiston said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”

Another swath of land on the conservancy wish list includes the final phase of the Triangle Ranch purchase. The 320-acre property that had once been destined for a custom-home development in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County next to Agoura Hills near Ladyface Mountain, was subdivided into four phases.

Three of the phases have already been purchased by the conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Hilton Foundation and the City of Agoura Hills also contributed funds for the buyout.

Edmiston said some of the conservation fund money could be used toward the purchase of the Triangle Ranch piece.

Dash Stolarz, a Conservancy spokesperson, said a portion of the funding might also be used to buy the Cornerstone property at the southeast corner of Cornell and Agoura roads in Agoura Hills, the controversial first project approved in the Agoura Village plan.

Doron Gelfand of Agoura and Cornell Roads LP placed the 8-acre, mixed-use project up for sale after losing a court battle that required him to undertake additional environmental reviews.

Stern said the Conservancy has broad discretion on how the funds are spent. A state Habitat Conservation Fund was established in 1990 and has been extended every 10 years since then.

Money from the bill will likely go toward the $60-million Liberty Canyon wildlife bridge and the protection of animals in general.

“We have all kinds of amazing critters in the hills,” he said. “The avian species is so rich. The steelhead trout are coming back.”

Stern added that some of the funding could help with restoration efforts stemming from the Woolsey fire, which destroyed about 95 percent of habitat in the core area of the mountains.

The conservation fund will distribute matching grants over 10 years to park districts, cities and other public agencies that demonstrate a need to conserve wildlife habitats.

“The Santa Monica Mountains is the largest biodiversity hotspot near a major metropolitan region,” Stern said. “It’s woven into our lives in such a unique way. It makes this region more human, even though it’s wilder. If we sleep on this issue, we’re going to have an extinction (of mountain lions) in our backyard in the next 15 years.”

Poison ban

Besides loss of habitat, poisons are a threat to local wildlife.

“Money is incredibly important to help with management patterns (and) to build new infrastructure, but money can’t solve it all,” Stern said regarding the rodenticide ban that he and Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) are championing.

On July 9 Stern and Bloom introduced Assembly Bill 1788, which gives wildlife further protection from rat poisons. If passed, California will prohibit most uses of the highly toxic rodenticides that have been found responsible for killing mountain lions, bobcats, hawks and other predators.

Stern said his bill was introduced after P-47, a 3-year-old mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, died after eating prey that was found to have anticoagulants in its system.