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Key Parcel Saves Wildlife Corridor

January 22, 2001|ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cameraman got exactly the shot he wanted: the femme fatale's profile silhouetted against . . . the Ventura Freeway.

An inelegant location, perhaps, but bobcat No. 43 is at home in this patch of green right next to the Liberty Canyon Road offramp.

The recent cat sighting is at the heart of the reason federal and local officials, environmentalists and cities have labored to create a broad swath of habitat stretching about 10 miles from the Santa Susana range south to the Santa Monica Mountains.

The idea was to weave together a continuous beltway of land out of public parkland and private open space. The bigger the wildlife habitat, scientists say, the better the chance that animals can successfully forage for food and water and find new mates to prevent inbreeding.

Now a 106-acre parcel, one of the last critical links to complete this wildlife corridor, has been bought.

The property, south of the Ventura Freeway next to where bobcat No. 43 was seen, has been at the top of Art Eck's wish list for years.

To acquire the parcel for federal parkland, Eck, superintendent for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, structured an unusual land deal with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, which operates the Calabasas Landfill.

The dump opened in 1961, 17 years before the Santa Monica Mountains national parkland was formed. But after the landfill was inside national recreation area boundaries, it required a special use permit from the National Park Service to continue operating, including an expansion of 50 acres.

Eck's 1998 deal gave the landfill a permit in exchange for a land swap for the Park Service.

Eck knew which land he wanted in the swap: the 106 acres known as the Abrams parcel, which once was slated for hundreds of apartments. The county sanitation agency bought the land for $3.2 million.

"If it were developed as planned, it would have been the nail in the coffin of the viability of that corridor," said Rorie Skei of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Like giddy new homeowners, park service and conservancy officials walked through their new acquisition on a recent day.

Bobcat sightings are common here, but on this day only a deer scampered in a canyon.

For more than a decade, the conservancy embraced the concept of preserving such wildlife corridors.

Today, the Santa Monica-Santa Susana corridor exists as a patchwork of federal parkland, such as the 625-acre Sage Ranch near Simi Valley, private land near Chatsworth, and other open space.

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