VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – A Southern California county put the finishing touches on a first-of-its-kind wildlife corridor Tuesday that will protect important pathways for animals to pass between critical habitats and into Los Padres National Forest.
The wildlife corridor in Ventura County covers 400,000 acres and includes more than 150,000 acres of private land. Sections stretch from the Pacific Coast into the mountains.
The main aim is to provide restrictions on development to provide adequate pathways for wildlife to pass through rural and semirural parts of Ventura County.
Guidelines under the new zoning ordinance include restrictions on outdoor lighting, fencing and other development that could hinder animals. Waterways will also gain a 200-foot buffer to protect animals from human incursion.
Following a marathon 9-hour public comment session last week, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve the corridor. The corridor stops short of private land in Los Padres National Forest in western Ventura County since wildlife protections are already in place there.
Two county supervisors voted against the zoning ordinance, citing concerns over property values and input from residents who said the project is an overreach of local government.
But conservationists say the corridor builds a foundation for future wildlife crossings around or over busy highways. Bobcats, mountain lions, badgers, coyotes, foxes and other animals are often cordoned off in small habitats because they can’t traverse busy roadways, which has led to inbreeding among their populations.
Support for the corridor included a letter-writing campaign by conservation groups, residents and local businesses, along with the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bryant Baker from the nonprofit Los Padres Forest Watch sees the corridor as a template for other counties and local governments to follow.
“Other counties are going to look at this process and build on it to adopt similar protections,” Baker told Courthouse News.
Lynn Jensen, with nonprofit Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, called the county’s corridor ordinance “the beginning of the end of land management for fire prevention, cattle grazing, farming and ranching in our county.”
In an email to Courthouse News, Jensen said the ordinance will have far-reaching consequences for farmers and ranchers who are going to have to abide by the new lighting and fencing restrictions, and keeping their ranching operations at least 200 feet from waterways.
Jensen’s group told the county in a letter that an appeals process to correct any issues with zoning should be added to the ordinance.
This past December, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act that would protect and restore waterways, fish and plant species and would give the federal government authority to designate national wildlife corridors.