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Lynne Plambeck: Giving thanks for the things nature has provided us

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: November 24, 2010 6:15 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2010 6:15 p.m.

In between the Santa Susana and San Gabriel mountains — right at the point that the two ranges meet in the Newhall Pass — lies an important swath of natural area.

It is the last wildlife corridor that links these two Southern California mountain ranges. It used to meander through shady oak-studded canyons filled with streams and teeming with wildlife, but with the increase in human population over the last 50 years, its very existence remains threatened.

Now animals such as raccoons, deer, coyotes and mountain lions migrating in search of food, water and mates are hard-pressed to maneuver the maze of freeways and development. Without access to these basic necessities and diversity within their gene pool, even common creatures would die out. 

Preserving this wildlife corridor and the rich gifts of nature that it supports has long been the dream of many local conservationists and residents. It was the dream of Marge Feinberg when she proposed the Rim of the Valley Corridor in the 80s as her master’s thesis, a vision that is slowly becoming a reality.

It has been a long and hard-fought battle.

In the late ’90s, a landfill took all the streams and more than 2,400 oaks in the Sunshine Canyon area.

They were cut down on a Thanksgiving weekend so that BFI Waste Management could avoid the public protest of their demise. (BFI will continue to live in infamy in the minds of many for this act).

 So much for the stage stop that once watered thirsty horses and travelers as they marveled at its beauty.

Pressures continued from the 5,000-unit Las Lomas project that lies in a critical section of the corridor in the area between Interstate 5 freeway and Highway 14. That would have removed 2,900 oaks.

Also opposed by the city and activists, it seems to have been thwarted by strong opposition and the housing downturn.

Elsmere Canyon, with its beautiful waterfalls and 3,000 oaks, has also survived thanks to the hard work of many activists and the city of Santa Clarita. The proposal in the early ’90s to turn this canyon into yet another landfill fomented a well-organized grassroots rebellion in our community. 

Working together as a coalition, groups that in other times might not agree formed an impenetrable legal and political wall of opposition to this proposal while working to solve the mounting trash issue with alternatives like recycling.

In the end, the National Forest Service, convinced by the need to conserve the wildlife corridor, refused to allow a landfill to be sited in the National Forest. This was a death knell that developers remain hard-pressed to overcome.

But the Forest Service warned the city at the time that Santa Clarita must also do its part to protect this wildlife corridor area in the future.

As the formidable opposition continued, it became obvious to those promoting this project and other developments in the area that their plans had little chance of success. Watt Industries sold Whitney Canyon to the Santa Monica Conservancy several years ago. A front piece of Elsmere was acquired some years later.

Last week, the city held a ceremony in the mountains above the Newhall Pass to celebrate the $6 million purchase of yet another parcel crucial to Marge Feinberg’s Rim of the Valley vision and the wildlife corridor.

From this lofty podium Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilwoman Marsha McLean praised the hard work of activists and the city that had brought them to this point. They explained the great importance of this wildlife corridor and its preservation.

So it is more than ironic that these two council members are the very ones promoting the Gates King Industrial project in the still natural city area of the Newhall Pass.

It seems they are also the prime promoters of this area, directly in the middle of the wildlife corridor, as the location of a new recycling facility. The proposed site would require that some 600 oaks be cut down and that a portion of Newhall Creek be concreted.

Now that the development pressure is in the city, have these councilwomen forgotten the admonition of the Forest Service to protect the wildlife corridor?

A recycling facility is urgently needed in our valley, but this is certainly not the right location. None of us worked this hard to preserve such an important gift of nature only to allow our own city to destroy it.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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