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Tracking measurable success on efforts across California to preserve and connect our Parks & Wildlife Corridors

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Monday, May 12, 2008

President Bush signs bill to study expansion of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

A team will study the value of adding land from the Rim of the Valley Corridor, but such a review could take years.

By James Hohmann, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 9, 2008

WASHINGTON -- -- The federal government on Thursday took the first step toward a massive expansion of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area as President Bush signed legislation ordering the Interior Department to consider making additions to the protected area.

A team based in Oakland will study the value of adding pieces of the sprawling 490,000-acre Rim of the Valley Corridor, an area that weaves around the Los Angeles Basin and includes parts of the Santa Monica, Santa Susanna, San Gabriel and Verdugo mountains.

Completing a feasibility study with public comments may take years, and Congress would need to approve any change to the recreation area's size, currently 153,000 acres. Even then, the high cost of land could limit expansion.

"If we don't act now with some foresight, those beautiful open-space areas are going to be gone," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), acknowledging the "long road" ahead. "It's what drew a lot of people to our area. Once it's gone, it's gone."

An expansion would be the first time the federal government has significantly stepped up its conservation efforts in the Los Angeles area since 1978, when the recreation area was created.

"This bill will allow the [National] Park Service to study ways we can link up existing parklands [and] work with local governments, other state agencies and federal agencies to ensure a cohesive system of wildlife trails," said Rorie Skei, chief deputy director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Environmentalists hailed the move as a way to protect diminishing open space and vanishing biodiversity, but some landowners and developers expressed concerns about excessive government interference.

The American Land Rights Assn., based in Battle Ground, Wash., calculated that the corridor includes 158,000 landowners in Los Angeles County and 11,000 in Ventura County. Executive Director Chuck Cushman promised to fight any "land grab."

The National Park Service promised that no property would be taken under eminent domain.

There is no assurance that new land will come under federal control as a result of Thursday's action.

Smeck said about two-thirds of such studies do not result in expanded park service involvement.

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