With real estate at a premium in over-developed Los Angeles, humans and wildlife are increasingly at odds over just who gets to use the land, and how. Sure, we're charmed by the approximately 140-pound mountain lion quietly ambushing the occasional mule deer in Griffith Park, but we (well, some of us) lost our collective minds when he decided to take shelter in the crawl space under a house nearby. Wildlife is great, some of us seem to say, but can't it please just stay in the parks delicately scattered among the highways and houses and concrete?
It's true that wildlife don't stay inside the lines we draw on our maps to denote the spaces we intend to leave green, but it is also true that every bit of undeveloped land helps reduce the pressure for wildlife to leave their neighborhoods and come into ours.
That's why a group of wildlife advocates is trying - literally - to buy a mountain.
Seventeen undeveloped acres between Lookout Mountain Avenue and Stanley Hills Drive in Laurel Canyon are currently owned by a small group of real estate investors. It's typical of the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains: dusty and brown, dotted with plants that have evolved over millions of years to survive in the dry, wildfire-prone southland, like the coastal live oak. It's home to coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, and skunks. Red-tailed hawks fly overhead, and western fence lizards bask in the sun. The Hollywood sign and the Downtown skyline are both visible from the 1,400-foot summit, one of the highest points in the area.
And those investors have now put their property on the market. That's where Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW), a non-profit wildlife advocacy group, comes in. Knowing how rare undeveloped land can be in that part of town, they've negotiated a purchase plan in an attempt to keep the parcel unencumbered by buildings. The property will cost them some $1.6 million, payable in installments over the next eighteen months, and the first payment of $50,000 is due on November 2. As of last Wednesday, the group had already raised $20,000.
For CLAW chairperson Alison Simard, the effort to literally buy a mountain isn't just for the animals. "Wildlife are the barometer of the health of our environment," she said on Wednesday to a group of assembled reporters and local homeowners as she announced the organization's plans to purchase the property. "We protect them by protecting their habitats and only in this way will we make our environment healthy for future generations of Angelenos," she continued. A functional ecosystem isn't just beneficial for wildlife, in other words; it's important for human health and well-being too.
If the group succeeds in buying the land,it will be subject to a "conservation easement," forever protected from intensive alteration. In other words, it won't be converted into a set of multi-million dollar homes or pricey condos. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Association (MRCA) has agreed to oversee and administer the land. "The long-term presence of larger mammal species in the mountain range between Laurel Canyon and Griffith Park depends on permanent protection of this 17-acre property," said Paul Edelman, MRCA Chief of Natural Resources and Planning.
The Laurel Canyon Association, a group of local residents, supports the move. President pro-tem Jamie Hall pointed out that this effort is in some ways a new, more proactive approach to conservation. "We are going to put our money where our mouth is," he said.
Los Angeles City Council Member David Ryu, whose Fourth District includes the land in question, announced that his office would match every donation made from now through November 2, up to $15,000. If that value is reached, then CLAW would have the $50,000 it needs to deliver its first payment. (If the group is unable to raise those funds, the property could go back on the market.) He sees this as an opportunity to set an example for other communities.
Ryu also noted that the property shares a border with Wonderland Avenue Elementary School. "The proximity to [the school] will give future generations of children the opportunity to experience our natural ecosystem as they learn and grow," he said, a sentiment that was echoed by school principal Sean Teer. "The view makes an impression," Teer said. "I know I have [children] at the school that probably have not seen the city or their community from this vantage point," he said. "And they need to."
Indeed, while Simard says she does not want to see the mountain become "another Runyon Canyon," as an MRCA owned and administered property, it would become accessible in some way to the public. And the best way to inspire people to protect open spaces and natural habitats is to let them experience it for themselves.