VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – A proposed wildlife corridor in Southern California would give mountain lions and other animals added protection against urban sprawl near Los Angeles County, but some landowners say the new set of laws is a land grab and overreach by local government and environmental advocates.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors weighed the new ordinance during a day-long public meeting on Tuesday where over 300 people attended and commented. County officials continued the item to another meeting later in the month after commentary ran into the night.
The wildlife corridor in Ventura County spreads over 400,000 acres and includes more than 150,000 acres of private land. The corridor would protect wildlife by regulating outdoor lighting that has been found to be harmful to nocturnal animals, placing restrictions on fencing and limiting development near rivers and streams.
A corridor would provide the foundation for future wildlife crossings that could help animals like bobcats, mountain lions, badgers, coyotes, foxes and other animals traverse dangerous highways, but land owners say the overlay zone would restrict them from trimming vegetation on their properties to protect from wildfires.
Meanwhile, county planners put in place prohibitions for rebuilding in the overlay zone, which many residents said would prove costly after a wildfire.
County Supervisor Steve Bennett said it was urgent that the county take up the matter now, as opposed to kicking the can down the road.
“If we lose a corridor in Ventura County, we’re not going to get it back. We still have the opportunity to do that now. The question is when is the right time to do it? I have to say now is the right time,” Bennett said.
Environmental advocates say the overlay zone will connect habitats in Los Padres National Forest to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
As the corridor overlay zone would encompass a large rural section of Ventura County, farmers say the restrictions would limit how they could maintain their properties.
Rancher Kenneth Rogers from East Santa Paula in Ventura County said he has 30 parcels that would be included in the wildlife corridor and the plan would kill his livelihood.
“Many of the members wore red to ask you not to pass the ordinance. I wore black because you’re about to shove a stake into the heart of agriculture in this county,” Rogers said during a marathon of public comments. “I think it’s wise to give this more time. You haven’t addressed the other issues – enforcement, fines and litigation. The landowners and tax payers are going to pay for this.”
Other residents compared the wildlife ordinance to eminent domain without compensation.
Environmental advocates overwhelmingly supported the county’s plan to install the corridor, with some asking the county board to increase buffer zones that would restrict development near bodies of water. Bryant Baker from the nonprofit Los Padres Forest Watch said the corridor would put Ventura County at the forefront of wildlife protection across the state.
“This corridor really would encourage better development for both humans and wildlife, because it strikes a good balance between wildlife and landowners,” said Baker.
Wildlife crossings would likely follow as the corridor is in place to give animals a chance to cross highways.
Between 2015 and 2017, California Highway Patrol received about 19,800 reports of traffic incidents that involved wildlife, including near hits and collisions with animals.