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Preserving local wildlife corridors is in everyone's best interests

Local Commentary

Posted: April 5, 2008 4:20 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2008 5:02 a.m.
A wildlife corridor is a continuous thread of habitat that connects species of animals that may have been separated by roads, housing developments or other human activities. These animal corridors are important because they allow different populations of animals to inter-breed, which gives them genetic diversity. It also allows access to more areas of habitat so predators can follow sources of food.

Animals that are trapped within smaller habitats and do not have access to additional habitat areas inter-breed and may suffer from genetic disintegration. Eventually, if they are not allowed to migrate, the species within an enclosed habitat will disappear.

Let me give you an example. A male mountain lion needs 100 miles of continuous habitat for himself. A female mountain lion needs 50 miles of continuous habitat. That is 150 miles of habitat for two cats.

When the male and female have a cub, that cub needs to migrate out of his parents' areas and find his own territory. If he is cut off from other habitats, he cannot disperse, and the male (his father) will probably kill him. If the offspring is a female, her father may mate with her.

Over time, the progeny from this union will suffer genetically, and the mountain lions will die out in this area.

Blocking animals
Animal corridors are not only for large mammals, but lots of other animals, large and small, plus fish, plants and their ecosystems as well. Every living thing, including people, needs these linkages to maintain its health.

To understand this in an even simpler manner, imagine if you were walking down a trail, and a large tree fell down in front of you, blocking your way. Imagine still that there was no passage around that tree. This is what an animal experiences when its historical crossings are blocked by a freeway, a dam, or a new housing development.

The animal must try to find a way around the blocked area to maintain the integrity of its genes, to find a mate, and to eat. The animal may try to cross a road. Recently we've seen a mountain lion death in Santa Clarita. The animal was trying to cross the road, and the driver could not stop in time. This has also recently happened on Mulholland Highway. Unfortunately, roads are not always safe corridors for animals.

Freeways, roads and housing developments are not the only things that can block animal corridors. Even in rural areas, people may feel the need to completely fence off their property. If everyone puts high fences around lots of acreage, then the animals cannot pass through.

As urban sprawl takes over, the animals have less and less room to roam.

Some of you may not care that a mountain lion was killed, or that there are approximately three left in our local mountains. The consequences of losing such a great predator could be many. Mountain lions eat about 1 1⁄2 deer per week. This is why a male needs 100 square miles to roam. He moves around so he does not deplete the deer population, and he also follows herds of deer around his territory.

If there were no mountain lions, there would be a huge overpopulation of deer, rabbits, and other rodents. The deer might be in your yard eating all your flowers and grass. The same would be true for the rabbits. The mice and rats might invade your house and gather meals in your pantry. This would be especially prevalent in years of drought when wild foods could no longer sustain large populations of rodents.

We've seen this happen on the East Coast where yards have been invaded by hundreds of deer at a time, and streets are taken over by rats.

Similarly, when wetlands are destroyed, water fowl find refuge in your backyard pool.

Southern California Wildlands, along with the Mountains, Recreation and Conservation Authority, The Nature Conservancy, and Caltrans, have been looking for solutions to this problem. They have identified crucial animal corridors and have proposed ways to keep these critical habitat areas open.

Caltrans has been researching ways to go under or over freeways to give the animals a safe way to cross and open up good habitat that exists on both sides of the roadways. The Nature Conservancy, MRCA and SC Wildlands have been acquiring property that will remain wild and will assist these animals before it is too late for them.

Bottom line
We are lucky in California to have some nice core habitat left. Animal corridors can connect these large areas of habitat and assure the survival of many of our indigenous species. Key species include mountain lions, black bear, coyotes, fox, and a multitude of smaller species, such as skunk, and raccoon, who may take a little longer to migrate into new habitat, but who will also be able to use the corridors.

But an animal corridor also will benefit the smallest of species, as well. The bottom line is to maintain what we have and try to add a few crucial pieces to complete the puzzle. By keeping these areas open, our ecosystem will remain healthy, our species will survive, and we will improve our quality of life.

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is a Santa Clarita Valley resident, volunteer, and leader of the SCV Community Hiking Club. Her column represents her own opinions, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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