Marilyn Cundiff is the wetlands program manager for the state Wildlife Conservation Board, which is supposed to receive $21 million of the annual $30-million allocation. But once the restrictions on the money are sorted out, the board sometimes gets as little as $1 million for its unrestricted use to acquire new habitat.
"It's a laundering scheme," Cundiff said. "From a budget perspective, it's not illegal. It's meeting the mandates of the law. Whether it's meeting the intent is perhaps another issue."
To Don Wallace, assistant secretary for administration and finance at the state Resources Agency, the decline in new land protection is a reflection of tough budget times. Voters never meant to tie the state's hands in acquiring land at the expense of other programs, he said.
"What [the act] does is say [that] to the extent practical, money will be spent in this manner," he said. "There's always weasel room."
But there is hope for mountain lion rooters. This year, Gov. Pete Wilson signed the Natural Resources Infrastructure Fund bill, which sets aside some of the state's tideland oil royalties to protect wildlife habitat.
With a dedicated source of revenue for the fund, environmentalists now hope that the state will have enough money to fully satisfy the goals of Proposition 117 and perhaps have additional money to buy other habitat.
The new fund has paid for a $1-million purchase this year of mountain lion habitat in Coal Canyon in Orange County, considered vital to creating a new land corridor between Cleveland National Forest and Chino Hills State Park.
But in a reminder of how difficult it is to preserve land, environmentalists noted that the $1 million is only a sliver of the $10 million to $14 million needed to preserve the whole corridor.
"The habitat conservation fund has been very successful in protecting critical habitat," said Brown, attorney for the Trust for Public Land. "The program would be even more successful if it was fully funded."
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From the Mountains to the City
More than a dozen sighting of mountain lions were reported in the San Fernando Valley between Nov. 7 and this past Wednesday, in a band stretching along the mountains from Tarzana to Shadow Hills. Wildlife officials believe that at least five animals and as many as eight may account for the different sightings. The cougars have attacked and injured one small dog and killed a pet turkey. There have been no attacks on humans, although one mountain lion approached a woman as she got out of her car in West Hills. Experts aren't sure what is causing the recent rash of sightings--the most in such a short period in memory--but say one factor may be a decline in habitat for the predators.
Adult mountain lion
Domestic cat track: 1 inch
Mountain lion track: 4 inches
Mountain Lion Spending
In 1990, voters passed the California Wildlife Protection Act, which banned mountain lion hunting and set aside up to $10 million a year for land to protect the animal and deer, its primary food source. Here's how much the state actually spent and how much new land was devoted to protection during the past six years. Wildlife experts say a single male mountain lion can range over up to 64,000 acres.
Fiscal Money Acres year spent acquired 1990-91 $6,801,000 3,015 1991-92 $4,449,000 1,924 1992-93 $5,725,000 5,454 1993-94 $4,132,000 4,547 1994-95 $3,654,000 4,848 1995-96 $1,323,000 1,507 TOTAL $26,084,000 21,295
Sources: Los Angeles Animal Services; Wildlife Conservation Board; Peterson's Field Guides.
Researched by T. CHRISTIAN MILLER / Los Angeles Times