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Environmentalists Plan Corridors for Wildlife : Open space: Conservancy hopes to buy thousands of acres so mountain lions, badgers and bobcats can travel between parks.

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If parks officials and environmentalists have their way, mountain lions, badgers and bobcats will be able to travel freely from one open area to another in eastern Ventura County.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy hopes to buy thousands of acres to establish corridors between the parks that dot the east county, staff biologist Paul Edelman said.

“The better connected open space system there is, the greater (the) wildlife population will be and the more diverse it will be,” Edelman said.

The corridors could be used by hikers as well as animals, he said.

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The wild animals pose no danger, Edelman said, because they run away when they see people. Mountain lions “don’t eat people,” he said.

Although the conservancy has no money for buying land, a $628-million bond issue planned for next year’s ballot includes $48 million for the conservancy to purchase parklands, he said. The group held a hearing in Thousand Oaks this week to get suggestions from Ventura County residents on what land to buy over the next five years.

Proposals to build thousands of houses in the hills north of Moorpark and Simi Valley increase the urgency of setting aside strips of land as open space corridors, Edelman said.

“Once the corridors are lost, it’s permanent,” he said. “Nobody tears out freeways. Nobody tears out housing projects.”

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Unconnected patches of open space are like islands, Edelman said. Disease, fire or development will eventually wipe out the limited populations of large animals that live in isolation, he said.

Preserving existing wildlife paths and establishing new ones will help maintain “a chain of important wildlife habitat” from the northern slope of the Santa Susana Mountains to the northern flank of the Santa Monica Mountains, he said.

At least a dozen mountain lions are believed to roam the area, including one that was recently sighted in the Santa Rosa Valley, north of Thousand Oaks, Edelman said. In addition to mountain lions, hundreds of American badgers, bobcats, mule deer and gray foxes also would be expected to use the proposed wildlife corridors, he said.

At a hearing Monday, about 65 parks officials and residents nominated parcels of land in Ventura County for the conservancy to consider buying, Edelman said. Most parcels suggested at the meeting would connect existing open areas, he said.

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The conservancy would have to pay about $200 million to purchase all of the 5,000 to 10,000 acres that were nominated at Monday’s meeting, Edelman said.

The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, for example, recommended dozens of land parcels located primarily north and east of Simi Valley, Assistant General Manager Donald E. Hunt said.

Instead of trying to buy all of the properties, the conservancy could ask property owners to keep portions of their land hospitable to wildlife, Hunt said. Property owners could, for example, agree to limit development and not to build tall chain-link fences, Hunt said.

“Simple split-rail fences are often OK,” Edelman said.

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Several proposed corridors are particularly important, Edelman said. These include a trail that starts at Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park and goes under the Simi Valley Freeway southeast to Oak Park and the Tierra Rejada greenbelt, he said. Studies have shown that animals will travel under freeways or along pedestrian walkways, riverbeds or large drainage tunnels, Edelman said.

One important wildlife corridor will be established if the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approves the proposed Ahmanson Ranch and Jordan Ranch developments, Edelman said. The more than 10,000 acres that would be set aside as open space under the development proposals include Runkle Ranch northeast of Simi Valley and a parcel southwest of Sage Ranch, which is already owned by the conservancy.

Together, these open space areas would help establish a path from the Santa Susana Mountains through Cheeseboro Canyon to the Santa Monica Mountains, Edelman said.

The conservancy will hold several more hearings in Los Angeles County before it sets a five-year plan for land purchases, Edelman said.

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RELATED STORY: B5

Proposed Open Space Corridors 1. Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park 2. Oak Park 3. Tapo Canyon Park 4. Runkle Ranch (proposed) 5. Sage Ranch 6. Cheeseboro Canyon 7. Bard Reservoir 8. Joel McCrea Wildlife Refuge 9. Wildwood Regional Park Source: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy


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