SoCal Housing Project Will Harm Mountain Lions, Conservationists Say

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

(CN) – A proposed housing development in Southern California would block the local mountain lion population from reaching the coast and imperil their survival, conservation groups say in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The Altair Project would put 5.1 million square feet of development on 270 acres in the Riverside County city of Temecula. The southern portion of the project would affect a wildlife corridor used by the Santa Ana mountain lion population, according to the complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and others.

In its complaint, the conservation groups say they notified Temecula and the developer, Ambient Communities, of inconsistencies in the development’s environmental impact report, including a lack of information on what impact the project would have on the mountain lions and a miscalculation of acreage that should be preserved for local wildlife.

“The project would threaten to eliminate the Santa Ana population of mountain lions by substantially degrading the wildlife corridors that are critical for the continued survival of the population,” says the complaint.

J.P. Rose, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, says the Santa Ana mountain lions rely on the corridor because development in surrounding areas throughout Riverside County have funneled them there.

“The Santa Ana mountain lions suffer from the lowest genetic diversity, primarily from a lack of viable corridors and not being able to breed with other mountain lion groups,” said Rose.

The proposed project would occupy land west of Old Town Temecula and was approved by the City Council last month. The conservation groups also say the developers did not look into the project’s impact on air quality, greenhouse gases, traffic, and water supply, along with local wildlife. The developers also did not provide enough alternatives for the public to explore that could lessen that footprint on the area.

“We’ve been encouraging the developer to conserve the area on the south side of the project,” said Rose.

Ambient Communities and the city of Temecula did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on the development or the current housing market. Defendants include Temecula, its City Council, Ambient Communities and Temecula West Village.

The Sierra Club, Mountain Lion Foundation and the Cougar Connection join the Center for Biological Diversity as plaintiffs. They want the development to avoid building altogether on the southern portion of land that would block the mountain lions’ corridor.

In 2004, Temecula agreed to be part of the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan which extends to all of western Riverside County and is meant to preserve biological diversity in the area. Conservationists say the proposed project violates that plan and they’re asking the developers to delay the project to address the concerns in their writ of mandate.

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