Highways, roads and new development tore through the San Fernando Valley following World War II, replacing bean fields, walnut orchards and orange groves. All of that took a merciless toll on wildlife.
Now, city officials and planners have a plan to make it easier for wild animals to move around and survive in urban settings, relieving pressure on wildlife before some of its species become extinct.
A proposed ordinance released earlier this year by city planners is designed to protect habitat connectivity in the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains between the 405 and 101 freeways where bobcats, gray foxes, mule deer, coyotes and other animals live.
The proposed ordinance is “the step in the right direction,” said Tony Tucci, chair and co-founder of the advocacy group Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife, or CLAW.
The group recently released a short video of a male mountain lion that inhabits the eastern Santa Monica Mountains between the 405 and 101 freeways, close to the home of another Hollywood celebrity, Mountain Lion P-22.
“If P-22 is the Brad Pitt of mountain lions, this slightly more youthful co-star could certainly be considered the Leo DiCaprio!” the group wrote in its June newsletter.
“They are both co-stars in an epic tale called ‘Once Upon a Time There Was Biodiversity in Los Angeles,'” Tucci said in an interview. “It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a tragedy. Or we would have a tragic ending – if we do not implement the city’s wildlife ordinance and change the direction of how we develop our hillsides. ”
City planners released a Wildlife Pilot Study in 2016 following a motion introduced by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, which called on the city to draft an ordinance with a set of land-use regulations that would allow wildlife to migrate and travel through the city, where most land is privately owned.
The resulting ordinance would help protect animals and plants within new wildlife district boundaries, including communities in Hollywood, Bel Air, Sherman Oaks and Studio City.
One of the aspects of development that will be impacted by the ordinance is new heights proposed for fencing around new homes.
Existing regulations limit fence heights to three and a half feet in front yards and six-foot limits for side and rear yards. The new ordinance will require that any portion of fencing higher than three and a half feet must be 50% open – to allow wild animals to safely slip through the fencing. Materials that are hazardous to wildlife including spikes, glass, barbed wire, and other mesh materials, would be banned.
The ordinance would also require developers to plan for space between new homes, so animals can travel freely through back yards.
In another effort to help mountain lions and other animals in developed LA, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing broke ground in Agoura Hills this year to provide a safe animal crossing above the 101 Freeway. Once built, that $ 87-million wildlife bridge will be the largest such crossing in the world.
Lisa Levinson, director of In Defense of Animals’ Sustainable Activism Campaign, said her group supports the proposed ordinance creating a wildlife district in LA because it “contributes toward the big picture of wildlife connectivity throughout Los Angeles.”
“Without these protections in place, the open spaces can not do their jobs to ensure the survival of wild animals in the region,” she said.
A public hearing to discuss the wildlife district is planned for July 13. After that, the ordinance will be reviewed by the LA City Planning Commission, then sent to Los Angeles City Council for debate, and proponents hope for final approval.
Tucci of CLAW said mountain lions and other wildlife have lived in urban areas of Los Angeles for a long time, but they have become more and more noticeable thanks to security cameras and other technology. In some communities, a friendly competition is underway on Nextdoor to publish photos of bobcats, coyotes, and even mountain lions captured on camera in LA yards. It’s up to humans, he said, to make sure wildlife remains in urban neighborhoods.
“We have always been living with these animals for as long as we started to develop the Hollywood Hills,” he said. “We do not know what it’s like to live in these hills without mountain lions. They’ve always been amongst us. I’m afraid I do not want to see what the hillside looks like without this animal. And we’re heading in that direction. “