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Ensuring public access for pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains

Ensuring public access for pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains
Griffith Park's resident mountain lion"P-22," seen in November of 2014. (National Park Service)

Think of it as public access for pumas: If the Los Angeles City Council has its way, new construction projects in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains would have to include pathways or easements for mountain lions, bobcats and other wildlife. The goal, laid out in a motion approved last week by the council, is to develop city rules to make sure development doesn't box in wild animals that need to roam the mountains for food, mates and survival.

The council's concern is well-founded. The hills between the 405 Freeway and Griffith Park still have enough open space to support and serve as a vital passage for wildlife. Famed cougar P-22 managed to cross the Sepulveda Pass and travel through the Hollywood Hills before getting his photo snapped near the Hollywood sign and, allegedly, dining on a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo.

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But the hills also have some of the most desired real estate in L.A. There's tremendous pressure to build new housing projects on undeveloped land and to tear down smaller homes to build mega-mansion compounds. A poorly placed wall or fence can cut off a wildlife corridor, making it difficult or even impossible for animals to move into new terrain. In some cases, the solution can be fairly simple: Build the house, wall or fence a few feet shy of the lot line, leaving space between it and the adjoining property for animals on the move.

In recent years, biologists and environmentalists have advocated for wildlife easements on a project by project basis. But they frequently only learn of the projects late in the development approval process, by which time it is often difficult and expensive to redesign a project. The motion approved by the council directs city staff to draft rules designating the stretch of mountains as a Regional Wildlife Habitat Linkage Zone and requiring that projects in the zone be designed to accommodate a wildlife crossing. The hope is that if property owners, architects and builders know the rules at the outset, it will be relatively easy to incorporate easements into their projects. Planning staff will have to figure out how to stitch the easements together into a cohesive corridor in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains.

The next step is to expand the rules beyond this first stretch of hills to include neighborhoods in the Santa Susana and San Gabriel mountains as well. Angelenos are lucky to live in an urban environment that still has some wildlife and wild spaces left. Let's keep it that way.

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