Los Angeles

Wildlife Corridor Moves Closer to Reality

The corridor will overpass the 101 Freeway, making a dramatic expansion for the mountain lions' habitat.

Plans to create a wildlife corridor linking the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area and the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains were a step closer to reality Friday, thanks to funding approved by the state Wildlife Conservation Board for the purchase of a critical 71-acre parcel of land.

The board on Wednesday agreed to put $3.35 million in bond funds toward the purchase of Chesebro Meadow, located just north of the Ventura (101) Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area envisioned to eventually house a landscaped freeway overpass that would dramatically expand the habitat of mountain lions and other wildlife.

The 71-acre property, which at one time had been targeted for possible development, is expected to be purchased for $7 million, with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy contributing about $2.5 million and Los Angeles County kicking in $1.1 million.

A Wildlife Conservation Board staff report identified the land as "one of the last significant unprotected properties in the Liberty Canyon inter-mountain range."

"Preservation of Chesebro Meadows is critical for the functionality of the Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor," according to the report. "The longterm survival of species depends on their ability to move between the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Padres and Angeles National Forests to maintain genetic diversity."

National Park Service officials tracking the movement of area mountain lions have long lamented the animals' fractured habitat, with their movements hampered in large part due to the 101 Freeway. Only one lion is known to have successfully crossed the freeway in the Liberty Canyon area. Known as P-12, the male lion made the north-to-south crossing in 2009, and researchers have documented eight litters of kittens he is known to have fathered, adding much-needed diversity to the lion population, according to Kate Kuykendall of the NPS.

The limits in habitat have led to problems with inbreeding among the lion population, endangering the long-term viability of the species. A recent NPS-UCLA study concluded that the Santa Monica Mountains' lion population could potentially be extinct within 50 years due to isolation by the freeway and urban development.

Studies are still progressing on a proposed 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long landscaped freeway overpass, but the purchase of Chesebro property is seen as a major step forward in the effort.

On Friday, state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, Agoura Hills Mayor Harry Schwarz and representatives of the Wildlife Conservation Board and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will hold a news conference at Chesebro Meadow to discuss the significance of the acquisition.

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