Agreement secures preservation of corridor for big cat crossings in Temecula


TEMECULA (CNS) – Conservation groups joined the city of Temecula and a developer Monday, Oct. 26 in signing an agreement that formally ends litigation over the preservation of a wildlife corridor for mountain lions on the west end of the city and ensures steps will be taken to protect it in the future.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Mountain Lion Foundation and the Endangered Habitats League signed the accord with Ambient Communities LLC and Temecula after two years of legal challenges over the 270-acre Altair Development near Business Park Drive and Diaz Road.
The agreement specifies that a 55-acre swath of land known as the “South Parcel” will be set aside for the fast-disappearing Santa Ana mountain lions to traverse.
“This agreement gives Santa Ana’s imperiled mountain lions a pathway to recovery,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney J.P. Rose said. “Poorly planned highways and development have hemmed this population in, and these beautiful big cats are being driven toward extinction. Now they have a better chance at survival.”
In 2018, the conservation groups sued the city over approval of an environmental impact report that they alleged failed to consider the impacts on mountain lions if the entire Altair project went forward without modifications.
The South Parcel fronts the Cleveland National Forest to the west and would also promote protection of western pond turtles and other fragmented wildlife, according to the CBD.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia in March sided with the plaintiffs, finding flaws in the EIR, culminating in the parcel preservation agreement.
“We thank the city of Temecula and Ambient in helping us keep the parcels next to the headwaters of the Santa Margarita River intact, thus avoiding an impact that would have almost certainly ensured the extinction of the Santa Ana lions,” Sierra Club spokeswoman Palm Nelson said. “Their fragile status indicates the health of all the species in our region. This agreement will give these magnificent creatures and struggling wildlife a chance.”
Under the compact, the parcel will not only be preserved and re-forested, but the city of Temecula will hire a ranger to monitor the space to ensure it is not disturbed.
“This agreement marks an important step in the fight to protect the Santa Ana mountain lions, and we look forward to collaborating on future efforts to plan and fund the restoration of corridors for these big cats,” Cougar Connection spokeswoman Vicki Long said.
According to the conservation groups, the California Fish & Game Commission is now considering adding Santa Ana mountain lions and other cougar populations elsewhere to the state’s Endangered Species Act.