As legislation to expand the Rim of the Valley corridor works its way through Congress, local conservationists are working to continue protecting the areas they say are crucial to maintaining the ecological integrity of the Santa Clarita Valley region.
The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, a federal bill authored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, would more than double in size the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was authorized as a unit of the National Park Service in 1978, so while protections have been in place for the Rim of the Valley corridor on the state level, the new legislation would merge the areas and, therefore, expand federal protections.
“(This) is a huge opportunity and distinction,” as it would allow federal funds to go into the area, said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources and planning for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
“It’s very expensive to own and maintain open space… so having the federal dollars to help with maintenance through the National Park Service staff would be invaluable,” Edelman added.
The legislation would also allow NPS and the local community to work together to better protect natural resources and habitat in the corridor and improve access for recreational and educational purposes, according to Feinstein.
In the SCV, lands between the Angeles National Forest and Highway 14 would be part of the 191,000 acres joining the existing 154,000 federally protected acres.
Within that area lies the Elsmere Canyon open space and more importantly Los Pinetos, which links some of the southern SCV’s open spaces.
The Los Pinetos underpass extends under the 10 lanes of Highway 14, connecting the Elsmere Canyon and Gates King open spaces, while also creating a wildlife crossing for a number of small and large mammals.
“If you think about it, there are so few ways for animals to cross the 14,” Edelman said. “Los Pinetos is just so perfectly positioned because it has wildland on both sides… They’re far and few between and every one of them is precious.”
Wildlife corridors such as this one are vital to moderating some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation where urbanization has split up habitat areas, causing animals to lose both their natural habitat and the ability to move between regions to use all of the resources they need to survive, according to Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE.
Locally, many animals use the Santa Clara River and its tributaries to move through the SCV and between the mountain ranges that border the valley.
However, in the Newhall Pass area, Los Pinetos provides a vital link for animals, according to a 2018 University of California, Los Angeles, study, which identified eight native midsized to large species, including mountain lions, American badgers, bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, gray foxes, raccoons and striped skunks.
Edelman noted that a privately owned, commercially zoned property located on the west side of the underpass is a linchpin in preserving the wildlife corridor.
If reclaimed and cleaned up, the property, which includes Hongo Oil Field, an old, capped, used field, could further expand the wildlife corridor by connecting to the Newhall Creek at the northern end, giving wildlife access to the Santa Clara River, according to Plambeck.
“So, we’re really concerned about this piece of property because if we lose it, we really could lose the whole corridor,” Plambeck added, noting that SCOPE is forming a team to work toward acquiring and subsequently preserving the property.
Lynn Winner, SCOPE board member, and Kathye Armitage, an SCV Water Agency board member, hope to encourage residents to participate in continuing to preserve the SCV’s natural areas such as this one.
“I think part of the problem right now is people are starting to get really overwhelmed with the realization that we need to be starting to move now in action around climate change,” Armitage said. “So, if we can give them projects like this… (where they can) just draw awareness to the issue, that’s a great step.”