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    Victory for Wildlife: Ventura County Supervisors Adopt Protections for Critical Wildlife Crossings in Los Padres National Forest

    Decision Comes on Eve of Appeals Court Hearing; County, Groups Work Together to Defend Ordinance from Legal Challenge.

    By

    Jeff Kuyper J.D.

    Ventura, Calif. – On Tuesday, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a new ordinance providing safe passage for wildlife and vehicles at 14 existing wildlife crossing structures (e.g. bridges and road culverts). The ordinance limits certain types of development and land uses within 200 feet of the crossings, which are located near the Ojai Valley and more remote areas within the Los Padres National Forest.

    This action aims to help wildlife such as mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, foxes, deer, and even fish continue to use the structures to safely cross busy roads like Scenic Route 33. They also improve driver safety by allowing animals to move under roads rather than across them.

    “Ventura County has taken another important step to secure a safer future for our region’s wildlife,” said Los Padres ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper. “This action will ensure that animals can safely roam—and drivers can safely travel—across the vast landscapes of Los Padres National Forest.”

    “Establishing setbacks is a simple way to encourage wildlife to use bridges and culverts to navigate the urban wild,” said Tiffany Yap, D.Env/Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope other communities take Ventura County’s lead and consider improving wildlife connectivity for mountain lions, bears, deer and other wildlife victims of our dangerous roads.”

    The proposed ordinance received overwhelming support from the public. Over 770 letters of support were submitted to the County from individuals and 18 conservation organizations. Representatives from state and federal agencies including Caltrans, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority also commented favorably.

    “We applaud Ventura County’s commitment to protecting our region’s important wildlife corridors, from the Los Padres National Forest to the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Dennis Arguelles, Southern California Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Ventura County’s leadership is a model for all jurisdictions in taking a proactive stance to address our catastrophic loss of biodiversity. Their dedication is instrumental in building resilient local ecosystems – for the safety of wildlife to live and roam.”

    The adoption marks the culmination of a multi-year effort by the Ventura County Planning Division to establish a county-wide balance between private property interests and the need to protect Ventura County wildlife from vehicle-related mortality. The action is also a major victory for conservation groups that continue to defend these wildlife protections in court.

    In 2019, Ventura County approved a new program requiring environmental reviews for projects that may hinder wildlife connectivity between areas of the Los Padres National Forest, the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. The northern Ventura County unincorporated area, however, was not included during the process at the time. Instead, the Board directed the Ventura County Planning Commission to further examine the need for protections in that area.

    The 2019 ordinances were challenged in court by the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, and the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association. Four conservation groups, including Los Padres ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Parks Conservation Association formally intervened in the case to support the County’s position.

    In April, 2022, a Ventura County Superior Court Judge ruled on the side of county leaders and conservationists and upheld the ordinances. Industry groups later appealed that ruling.  The California Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case this week, and a decision is expected later this year.

    In the meantime, this week’s decision by the Board of Supervisors completed the picture by establishing protections for 14 wildlife crossing structures in the northern Ventura County unincorporated area, including within the Los Padres National Forest.

     

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