SM MOUNTAINS — Conservationists are on a mission to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and are calling on those who love the great outdoors to get involved.

The National Parks Conservation Association is urging Santa Monica residents to write to the National Park Service, asking the federal agency to consider expanding the recreation area by up to 500,000 acres. The park service is currently conducting the Rim of the Valley Corridor Special Resources Study that examines the potential of land surrounding the San Fernando, La Crescenta, Santa Clarita, Simi and Conejo valleys.

The overall goal of the study, which was first proposed in 1990, is to gain a better understanding of the ecosystems surrounding those valleys and to develop options on how best to preserve and development them.

Although some of these valleys have already been incorporated into national, state, or county park lands (such as the Los Angeles National Forest) they are still eligible for inclusion into the Santa Monica Mountains.

“It’s very confusing,” said Anne Dove, project manager of the study. “Most park lands are under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies, such as the National Parks Service and the state.”

For example, Malibu Creek State Park is managed by the California State Parks but it is also located within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, she said.

Because the study relies heavily on public input and feedback, a draft of alternative outcomes for the study will not be available until 2012. Possible alternatives include expansion of the boundaries of the Santa Monica National Mountains to include some or all of the Rim of the Valley Corridor, or simply leaving the boundaries where they are.

“Our overall goal is to do what is best for the wildlife corridors and public use,” Dove said. She also said that merging of the parks could lead to the formation of new partnerships between state and local entities, ultimately making management of the parks easier and more efficient.

A pivotal detail in the study, which the National Parks Service is quick to point out, is that private landowners located within the areas being considered will not be forced to cede their land.

“If we end up expanding the boundaries of the park, we have already promised that we would not acquire private lands other than from willing sellers,” Dove said. “We aren’t going to force anyone to move out of their house.”

Local residents and frequenters of the outdoors have already started voicing their opinions about what they would like the outcomes of the study to be, including the National Parks Conservation Association. The organization supports expansion of the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains in the belief that it will help protect local wildlife, especially larger mammals such as mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes, from losing their habitats and migration routes to anthropogenic development. According to Seth Shteir, the California Desert Field Representative for the organization, the mountains are home to over 1,000 plant species and 500 mammal, bird, and reptile species.

“We can’t get rid of the expansion that has already occurred in these lands, but we can prevent existing habitats from further fragmentation,” Shteir said.

The group also recognizes the added recreational benefit that the study can have and is urging the National Parks Service to develop a “Transit to Trails” alternative transportation system that can deliver visitors to key trailheads without the use of their cars.

For the next year and a half, public meetings will be held in locations throughout the city and surrounding counties. The public will have an opportunity to learn about current developments and put forth comments on the outcomes for the study. The public is also invited to send their ideas to the National Parks Service through e-mail (pwr_rimofthevalley@nps.gov) or by visiting their website, parkplanning.nps.gov.

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