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Summer 2007

The Greenbelt - an open space of state-wide significance

The Greenbelt is the area that separates

has been designated a California Point of Historic Interest. It serves as an the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando Valley. For a number of reasons, aesthetically-pleasing backdrop to the scenic viewshed from the I-5 and SR 14, it is an open space of state-wide which creates a sense of place. significance. It contains the wildlife corridor between the San Gabriel and the There is currently a ballot measure before Santa Susana Mountains. It is part of the the voters in the City of Santa Clarita to upper watershed for both the Los Angeles create an Open Space Preservation District, River and the Santa Clara River. which would help purchase additional According to LA County’s DPW, the Santa open space in the Greenbelt. In the Clara River is “the largest river in Engineer’s report, the City has identified 5 Southern California that remains in a key areas for potential acquisition that relative natural state”. It is part of support the Greenbelt’s key ecological California history; for example, Beale’s Cut (continued on page 3)

Inside this issue…. 1 2 2 3-4 5 6-7 8 9 10 11 12

Feature Story Greenbelt From the Editor Greetings from the MRCA Greenbelt, cont. Elsmere Canyon Map of the Greenbelt Wildlife Corridors Parks in the News King Gillette Ranch update Notes from the Field Photo Gallery

View of the Santa Susana Mountains Photo courtesy Christy Henry

From the Editor….. Last month, my husband and I were in Philadelphia, listening to a commencement address by Dr. Michael Dombeck, former head of the US Forest Service and now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. In the audience there was a mixture of Generation Y graduates, all decked out in their caps and gowns, and their grey-haired Boomer parents. As he spoke, I recognized a characteristic Midwestern “twang” and knew he spent time in Minnesota. As it turns out, we both attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota at the same time. I immediately liked the guy. In his speech, Dr. Dombeck encouraged his audience to Haverford College become better stewards of the land. Then he said something that really caught my attention. He quoted Aldo Leopold, reminding us “that the highest task of civilization was to figure out how ‘to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

To live on a piece of land without spoiling it requires us to view it from an historical perspective, a perspective beyond our limited personal lifespan. We need to adopt the best practices from the people who lived here before us as well as consider the needs of the people who will come after us. Right now, the people in my hometown of Santa Clarita have a chance to vote on the formation of an open space district, one that would enable our city government to purchase open space before it is developed. We could add to the greenbelt between the Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valleys. We could choose to become better stewards of the land. It’s an opportunity— for Boomer’s as well as Generation X and Y’s - to work together, to live on the land as stewards and leave a legacy for the future. I hope we choose wisely. And to our daughter Ellie, congratulations. Your Dad and I are very proud of you. Wendy Langhans 310-858-7272 x115

Greetings from the MRCA….. Dear Friends, This story didn’t make the news: According to MRCA trail volunteer Steve Ioerger, “In the first quarter of this year we had 19 trail work days where our 23 volunteers donated 344 ours maintaining the trails in Towsley Canyon.” Here’s another story didn’t make the news: On June 6, the MRCA Board accepted a grant from Prop 40 to develop and improve of land and water resources in Mentryville, Santa Clarita. This includes plans to develop new trails. As isolated stories, these don’t tell you much beyond the facts. But if you look at them together, you begin to see a pattern. You see good things being accomplished by a cooperate effort among public agencies and private citizens. And you also see that where the public is actively engaged in something worthwhile, the government is supportive. As this issue of Symbiosis goes to press, the citizens of Santa Clarita are voting on an assessment to create an Open Space Page 2

Preservation District, to create a green belt of open space around the city and the valley. Now here’s something that did make the news: last week the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy passed a resolution supporting this measure. As quoted in The Signal, Executive Director Joe Edmiston stated that “park officials rarely turn down requests for matching funds when voters in a local area approve something like an assessment, which generates revenue. ‘That is the single most persuasive argument you can make when you go to Sacramento,’”

It gives a whole new meaning to “send them a message”, doesn’t it? Now go outside and play! Michael D. “Mike” Berger, Chair Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

Greenbelt (continued from page 1)…. functions. That is one of the reasons why the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy supports the measure. In this issue of Symbiosis we will focus on some of the proposed developments and illustrate what is at stake ecologically. We will also provide an insert with maps identifying each proposed development site, as well as the location of land that is now being preserved as open space. Las Lomas What’s at stake: wildlife corridor and viewshed. The 555 -acre Las Lomas development is proposed for the eastern side of the I-5, between Calgrove and Hwy 14. This $2 billion project would consist of about 5,800 residences and over 2.5 million feet of commercial, retail and civic space. This area contains 30% of the available habitat area within the Newhall Wedge, that I-5 Wildlife Undercrossing area between the I-5 and SR 14 , and is critical to the ecological viability of the wildlife corridor between the San Gabriel' and the Santa Susana mountains. We need to provide a critical mass of permanently protected habitat for the mule deer, bobcat, grey fox, American badger and long-tailed weasel. In addition, we need to preserve the Gavin-The Old Road underpass and Weldon Canyon overpass to maintain wildlife access. For more information about wildlife corridors, please refer to the article on page 8. Gates-King Industrial Project What’s at stake: wildlife corridor. This 508-acre industrial project, located between Pine Street and the Sierra Highway, has been approved. Like Las

Lomas, Gates-King is also within the Newhall Wedge, so wildlife corridor concerns remain at risk. To maintain viability of the inter-mountain wildlife linkage, a minimum 2,500-foot-wide unbroken swath of habitat must pass through both Gate-King and Las Lomas in order to connect the open space to the east and the Weldon Canyon overpass to the west. Here’s an example of how piecemeal development can have regional repercussions. A “break” in any section of the wildlife corridor can destroy the viability of the whole. Lyon’s Canyon What’s at stake: wildlife corridor and significant ecological areas (SEA). The 232-acre Lyon’s Canyon development is proposed for the area west of the I-5 between Sunset Pointe on the north and Towsley Canyon on the south. Besides serving as part of the Plummer’s mariposa lily, one of the wildlife “special status” plants in Lyon’s Canyon corridor, Lyons Canyon also contains two significant ecological areas, SEA 20 and 63, which would be negatively impacted by the proposed development. Lyons Canyon has five "special status" plants (with seven others likely) and two "special status" animals (with eleven others likely); “special status” being defined as rare, endangered, or threatened. It contains eight habitats that are rare or limited in numbers. In a recent letter to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, the SMMC wrote that the Lyon’s Canyon development would "essentially gut the central and lower portions of a significant Santa Susana Mountains watershed of all remaining core habitat values." Furthermore, the project as designed has only one exit that could be blocked in the event of a wildfire. This makes a second connection to Pico Canyon Road more likely, which would open more back-country area to development. (continued on page 4) Page 3

Greenbelt (cont. from page 3) Elsmere Canyon What’s at stake: wildlife corridor and watershed. Elsmere Canyon is located south of SR 14 and west of Whitney Canyon. In March, the MRCA accepted a donation of 400 acres of land in Elsmere Canyon from Allied Waste, parent company of Browning-Ferris Industries. But that’s only about 1/3 of the 1,125 acres in Elsmere Canyon that are privately held. Currently, there are plans to build “luxury estates” throughout the remaining open space. Elsmere canyon contains riparian habitat, which is defined as the area adjacent to streams or riverbanks. It is some of our most productive habitat; 25% of California’s land mammals depend upon riparian habitat. Unfortunately, only 3-5% of the original riparian habitat remains undeveloped in Southern California.

This waterfall at Elsmere Canyon is an example of a riparian habitat, a key component of a viable wildlife corridor. It is also part of the Santa Clara River watershed. Photo courtesy Stan Walker. Newhall Refining/ Hondo Oil What’s at stake: wildlife corridor. This area consists of the open space between the SR 14 and the Sierra Highway. It contains the Los Pinetos undercrossing, the ONLY passage between the San Gabriel mountains and the Newhall wedge. If this section is developed, it will sever the wildlife corridor. Smiser Mule Ranch What’s at stake: viewshed. Located east of the I-5 between Calgrove and Lyons, the 37Page 4

Moonrise near Towsley Canyon, part of the viewscape along the I-5 . acre parcel would be developed into a 600,000 sq-ft mixeduse commercial and residential complex, with 1,000 condominiums and a 10-story hotel. Most building will be 4 -5 stories tall but a few may reach 8-10 stories. Viewsheds provide us with a sense of place: you expect to see the ocean in Ventura and you expect to see the mountains in the Santa Clarita valley. As defined in the City of Santa Clarita’s General Plan, “Viewsheds constitute the range of vision in which scenic resources may be observed. They are defined by physical features that frame the boundaries or context to one or more scenic resources. A region’s topography can lend aesthetic value through the creation of public view corridors of ridgelines and mountains and through the visual backdrop created by mountains and hillsides.” Although not strictly speaking an ecological issue, it is an economic one. To illustrate my point, consider why people traditionally move to the suburbs. Are attractive scenic views part of their criteria for choosing a place to live? Do attractive scenic views positively affect property values? Conclusion. We have a wildlife corridor that works….for right now. In a recent appearance before Congress, SMMC’s Exec. Director Joseph Edmiston testified that, “ land use decisions pending within the next few years can change all of that forever. Actions will be taken in that time frame by major landowners whether or not to engage in park partnerships—and many times sale for park and recreation purposes is a preferred choice for local property owners—or whether to commit the land to residential and commercial development.”

Elsmere Canyon was the Route Between the Valleys…. Elsmere Canyon is a park with many faces. To the hiker it is a rugged and challenging playground with beautiful vistas and rewarding trails. To the naturalist it is home to a thriving stream ecosystem teaming with fascinating plant and animal life. To the photographer the contrasts created by the stunning explosion of colors hidden just below the dry and worn hillsides are magical. To the MRCA it is the newest addition to the critical expanse of open space between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. Given it’s rich history, it is only fitting that this canyon fill many different needs for many different people. Elsmere Canyon’s importance in human history was determined by it’s natural history. Elsmere Canyon lay between two large and agriculturally productive river valleys. For centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, the Gabrielino/Tongva, centered in the San Fernando Valley, and the Tatavium, centered in the Santa Clarita Valley, utilized Elsmere Canyon as a suitable avenue for their extensive trade. Native American Villages in the Vicinity of Santa Clarita Courtesy Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society


By the mid-1850’s the demographics changed but the need remained for a convenient route between the two valleys. General Beale and the troops from Fort Tejon cut a 90 foot slash through Elsmere Canyon. Later known as Beale’s Cut, this gash in the mountains allowed for quicker and easier passage. Beale’s Cut By the early 1900’s, Los Photo Courtesy Santa Clarita Angeles undertook the Valley Historical Society largest water project in the world. In order to supply the growing metropolis with fresh water, the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierras was drained and piped to the faucets and orchards of the valleys of Los Angeles. A large section of pipe was laid underneath Elsmere Canyon. Today when you look at the canyon, you can see a challenge through the eyes of the hiker, a thriving ecosystem through the eyes of a naturalist, a magical contrast through the eyes of a photographer, or an amazing history through the eyes of time. It seems fitting that a park that has Waterfall at Elsmere Canyon so much to offer Photo courtesy Stan Walker yesterday and today has become a crucial part of a larger effort by the MRCA and others to create a vital and lasting expanse of open space between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita Valley. Submitted by MRCA Interpreter Keith Jobson Page 5

The Newhall Wedge, the key to the ecological health of the Greenbelt. The Newhall Wedge is an ecologically strategic section of land between the I-5 and Highway 14. It is part of the Greenbelt, the open space between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys. It serves as the wildlife corridor between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Susana Mountains. It is part of the watershed for both the Santa Clara River and the Los Angeles River Its viability is threatened by a series of proposed development projects, such as 555-acre Los Lomas, which threatens the Gavin-Old Road underpass and Gavin overpass. 508-acre Gates-King, key to a viable wildlife corridor. 232-acre Lyon’s Canyon, encroaching upon a significant ecological areas, SEA 63. 1,225 acres in Elsmere Canyon, potential site of “luxury estates”. The “Los Pinetos undercrossing” is the ONLY undercrossing between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Newhall Wedge. Hondo Oil/Newhall Refining Company. The loss of this open space will destroy the wildlife corridor. 37-acre Smiser Mule Ranch. This is the northwestern entrance to the Newhall Wedge, across the I-5 from Lyon’s Canyon.

Wildlife Corridor



Wildlife Corridors keep wildlife healthy and one the go…. What happens when our comings and goings are hampered by a road closure, a tree falling across our path or a flooded street? It can be very frustrating. Now imagine that your life depends on getting across that area – you have to cross a freeway with cars traveling at sixty miles per hour to get your dinner or to get to your mate. This is what occurs when the needs of different keystone species are at odds, like humans and mountain lions. A keystone species is defined as a species with a disproportionate effect on its environment relative to its abundance. First, take a look at how this conflict begins. For a keystone species like the mountain lion, Puma concolor, to survive, it needs to be able to have access to a territory of upwards of 100 square mile, depending on the cat’s gender and the density of prey. Residential development reduces the amount of available wildlife habitat (threatening an estimated 59 per cent of California’s wildlife). Also, humans tend to cluster the answers to their basic needs like shopping malls, hospitals and housing, then connect those areas with roads and highways for accessibility. These connectors fragment an animal’s territory and create “islands” of habitat, which limits an animal’s ability to move in response to changing conditions and threatens their survival. Other methods of fragmentation include power lines, fences, dams, aqueducts, off-road vehicles, and even light and noise pollution. These “islands” deprive the animals and plants of genetic diversity that is crucial to a healthy population and lead to smaller, more isolated animal populations. To put this in human terms, consider a tour I took recently in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. As I stood between two mountains in Cataloochie Valley, the guide explained, “When a young man came of age and lived on that mountain”, he said, pointing to his left, “he’d put on his traveling shoes and walk over to that mountain”, he pointed to the area on his right, “to find a woman. That way there was no mixing of kin.” The same is true for species such as the mountain lion. The males do not recognize individuals as family and may mate with their daughters, resulting in sterility in the young (Mountain Lion Foundation). Page 8

One solution to meeting the needs of both humans and wildlife is to create wildlife corridors, land managed for its function as a route for wildlife movement and dispersal. “Corridors mitigate the effects of this fragmentation by (1) allowing animals to move between remaining habitats, thereby permitting depleted populations to be replenished and promoting genetic exchange; (2) providing escape routes from fire, predators, and human disturbances, thus reducing the risk of catastrophic events (such as fire or disease) causing population or local species extinction; and (3) serving as travel routes for individual animals as they move within their home ranges in search of food, water, mates, and other needs.”(1) That’s one reason why the Santa Clarita Woodlands was purchased in the 1980’s. So the next time you experience a blockage in your travels whether it be traffic, a detour, an accident, or a downed power line, remember our wild friends and how they need safe passages too. Agencies like the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and its partners work diligently to provide crucial passages for keystone specie like the Puma Concolor to survive by buying up key properties that link core habitats, thus providing what is necessary for a healthy ecosystem. Submitted by Angi Orton, MRCA Director of Volunteer Services ___________________

(1) Santa Clarita Valley General Plan, pg 54.

July’s Chautauqua Program Presents:

Dr. Ray Sauvajot and his team have spent years tracking mountain lions in the mountains of Southern California. They have seen first-hand how mountain lions use wildlife corridors.

Parks in the News….. The Franklin Canyon Store is Now Open! The Franklin Canyon Store is now open inside the Sooky Goldman Nature Center. It’s a great place to purchase cold water and snacks!!! Open everyday from 10am to 4pm.

Please join us at 8 pm on July 31 at King Gillette Ranch for the Simultaneous World Premiere of: This documentary is a story of the human spirit fighting to save what is precious and rare. It is a story inspired by hundreds of Park Rangers working the frontline of conservation around the world. Profits generated from the documentary will go towards supporting the families of rangers killed in the line of duty by poachers, guerillas, and militias. For details and to RSVP contact Ranger Jewel Johnson: (818) 871-9645 ext 24 or

MRCA Facilities and Maintenance: Preparing for the fire before we see the smoke You don’t need a crystal ball to know this fire season could get real ugly. We know it too and our brushing crews are preparing for it. Brushing is mix of mechanical, hand labor, resource modification and other techniques to remove hazardous fuel loads. During the peak season, MRCA employee Alfredo Leon coordinates the efforts of 100 workers per day. He determines the location of the property lines and the size of the clearance zone. He works with the fire departments, agricultural inspectors and home owner associations.

All this brushing is not cheap: brushing costs an average of $1250 per acre, with an annual hit to our budget of $1.5 million. But compare that to the cost of not brushing.

Alfredo Leon with his “Bobcat”.

How many homes, how many lives are saved because people like Alfredo are “just doing their jobs”?

July Chautauqua Program: Mountain Lions in Los Angeles Tues., July 17, 7:30-9:00 PM, Woodland Hall at Temescal Canyon Gateway Park, program free, parking $5.00 Dr. Ray Sauvajot, National Park Service wildlife ecologist, will discuss his work monitoring the mountain lions that live in the wild areas surrounding Los Angeles. The mountain lion populations of Los Angeles face many difficult challenges as a result of their proximity to urban areas. Using radio collars, remote cameras and satellite tracking, Dr. Sauvajot and his team of researcher have made great strides in understanding how these animals, including the last known family of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, survive in an increasingly urbanized landscape. Dr. Sauvajot is Chief of Planning, Science and Resource Management at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is a Senior Science Advisor for the NPS.

August Chautauqua Program: Sustainable Urban Living Tues., August 21, 7:30-9:00 PM, Woodland Hall at Temescal Canyon Gateway Park, program free, parking $5.00 Julia Russell is president of the Eco-Home Network, whose mission is to create a sustainable future for our cities through demonstration, education, and building a constituency for ecological urban living. Their 'Eco-Home' is an environmentallysound, energy-efficient, economical house which can serve as a model for others to follow. Page 9

King Gillette Ranch Opening to the Public June 30th…. What do disposable razors, glamorous Hollywood parties, campfires, and mountain lion survival all have in common? The answer is King Gillette Ranch, the newest addition to public open space. The MRCA is opening King Gillette Ranch to the public on June 30th. KGR is located 3 miles south of Hwy. 101 at the intersection of Mulholland Hwy. and Las Virgenes Road. The history behind this property is vast and varied – starting out as Talapop, a large and socially important Tile work depicting a scene from the Chumash village, Rancho Period embellishes the moving on to entrance to the Gillette Mansion. become part of the Rancho era, and then purchased by razor baron King Gillette, who wanted to take his disposable razor-generated millions and create the rustic retirement. He commissioned noted California architect Wallace Neff to build a Spanish revival styled mansion. However, the stock market crash reversed Gillette’s fortunes and he died several years later. His widow sold the property to MGM director Clarence Brown. The property became a Catholic seminary and later home to the controversial cult of Elizabeth Clair Prophet before Soka University bought it in 1986. Park agencies had hoped to acquire the 588-acre property since the late 1970’s, but that did not occur until 2005, when it was purchased from Soka by the SMMC and MRCA (along with the National Park Service, California State Parks, other state and local agencies, and some private contributions). The turnover wasn’t scheduled until early next year, but in a surprising turn of events, the doors are opening 6 months early. So while we work with our park partners to garner public input and develop long-term programming, we felt the need to offer something NOW. Campfires are a traditional summer pastime (with stringent and proper safeguards, of course). We will offer evening campfires every Tuesday starting in July. On weekends there will be moonlight hikes, and day hikes showcasing the Page 10

natural world as well as the site's history and architecture. We see this as a chance to introduce KGR to the public with a series of programs similar to those we offer at our other sites. For information about our public programs, please visit our website at If you wish to be added to our e-mail list for hikes and activities, contact Robin Smith at King Gillette Ranch may also serve as a location for a schoolbased field science program. Currently, the MRCA brings LAUSD sixth graders to Temescal Canyon Gateway Park for a week of outdoor education, rope course challenges, campfires, and hiking. With it’s open spaces, sweeping views, and dormitory buildings already in place KGR would enable us to reach even more students, helping to create the next generation of naturalists. Besides being an ideal location for public programs and outdoor education, KGR serves an important ecological role in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. KGR, along

Mule deer can often be found browsing on the property. with other areas such as Malibu Creek State Park, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, and Cheeseboro Canyon, occupies a strategically position in the wildlife corridor connecting the Santa Monica Mountains, through the Simi Hills, to the Santa Susanna Mountains. It increases the size of the core habitat area for wildlife. And it’s part of the watershed for Malibu Creek. So come on down and pay us a visit this summer. Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Greta Garbo used to fly here for weekend parties. We invite you and your family to join us for an evening campfire or a morning hike. Submitted by MRCA Interpreter Anna Fink

Notes from the Field….. The mystery of the traveling phacelia Earlier this week I was hiking at Walker Ranch, a place I seldom visit because it's not MRCA parkland. But I was scoping out the site for a Fire Ecology Program that we did in April for the Community Hiking Club in Santa Clarita. Parts of Walker Ranch in Placerita Canyon burned last year in a wildfire and we were looking for “fire followers”, plants that commonly and loosely defined as any flower that is more abundant after a wildfire. Dianne and Steve, two of our MRCA volunteers, were walking with me. We spotted some intensely blue flowers along the trail, which prompted each of us to take out our cameras and get down in the dirt. We always carry our cameras with us and there's plenty of good-natured bantering about who has the best camera gear. Later in the day, we traded e-mails about the identity of those blue flowers. We knew they were phacelia but the question was "which one". There are many different species. Finally, after we exchanged a few digital photos, we agreed it looked like Desert Bluebells, Phacelia campanularia, to be precise. But Desert Bluebells are normally found east of here in the Mojave Desert. So we checked with Ian Swift at the Placerita Nature Center. He agreed with our identification.

Desert bluebells, Phacelia campanularia What's more, according to his records, this flower had not been previously documented at Placerita. So what happened? These flowers were too close to the trailhead to not have been noticed before this. I wondered if someone had scattered seeds there after the fire in a sincere but misguided restoration effort. Then Dianne told me she had photographed that same flower in Pico canyon in 2005. Hmmm...the mystery deepens. Now we are left with a question: how did the seeds get to Santa Clarita from the Mojave? A Santa Ana wind? Carried in the fur or feathers of an animal? Scat? One thing seems certain, the wildlife corridor from the Mojave to the Santa Susana mountains is used by plants, not just animals.

Everything INCLUDING the bathroom sink What happens when tenants move out and leave a mess. You clean it up, of course. But suppose the mess was buried in the back yard and not uncovered until years later. This was the situation in Whitney Canyon, part of the greenbelt in Santa Clarita. The heavy winter rains

of 2005/06 uncovered years of buried trash. So in May, the Community Hiking Club and MRCA volunteers, in partnership with the City of Santa Clarita, the MRCA and the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, organized a 2-day clean up. REI provided snacks, the Castaic Lake Water Agency provide water, and Burrtec provided a huge dumpster.

Over 70 volunteers helped remove long-buried trash like this carpet from Whitney Canyon. Photos courtesy of Dianne Erskine. Page 11

Things you may not see while driving along the I-5 through the Newhall Pass.

Santa Clarita Woodlands Park is adjacent to the Newhall Pass along the I-5. According to Caltrans, 50 million vehicles travel this corridor each year. How many of these people, enveloped inside their air-conditioned cars, ever stop to see the natural treasures surrounding them? There’s a whole ’nother world outside your car. Take the Calgrove exit west off the I-5, turn south 1/4 mile along the Old Road and go for a walk.

A Honeybee feasts on a Sunflower. Big-coned douglas fir trees stand in silhouette against the sky. The interior of this sacred datura blossom glows in the natural light of early morning.

From a distance, all you see is a cluster of white flowers. But a closer look reveals the details of an elderberry (top) and toyon (bottom).

A Behr’s metalmark enjoys a nourishing visit to a golden yarrow.

Summer 2007: The Greenbelt - An open space of state-wide significance  
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