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Land Purchase Paves Way For Proposed Wildlife Overpass Over The 101

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Members of 'Save Chesebro Meadow' out in Chesebro Meadow. (Photo via Facebook/Save Chesebro Meadow)
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The State Wildlife Conservation Board approved an action to spend $3.35 million to purchase Chesebro Meadow in Agoura Hills on Wednesday, according to KTLA, which helps pave way for the construction of a proposed wildlife overpass that would go over the 101 Freeway in that area. The overpass is anticipated to be a crucial for the survival of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, as they live in a trapped-in space that's bordered by the sea and the freeways.

Chesebro Meadow, a 71-acre property that lies just north of Highway 101 at the southern end of the Simi Hills, has been caught up in a protracted, 10-year battle between developers and environmentalists. According to The Acorn, the City of Agoura Hills was the latest titleholder to the property. They'd purchased it out of bankruptcy from a Jewish synagogue that had initially wanted to build a school out there. The city later awarded development rights to businessman Benjamin Efram, who wanted to build 15 luxury homes in the area. According to KTLA, there had even, at one point, been a possibility that the space would be used for a new prison.

The board's decision marks a big victory for conservations. As part of the $7 million deal, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will also be contributing $2.55 million, and the Los Angeles County will pay an extra $1.1 million. State funds come from Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion bond measure that was passed by voters in 2002 to pay for natural resources. The property will be managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

The implications of the board's decision is far-reaching, as the area in and around Chesebro Meadow is critical for the construction of the overpass that would go over the 101 Freeway. The overpass, to be built near Liberty Canyon Road, is intended to connect the Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi Hills, which are separated by the 101 Freeway. This bridge would be especially crucial for the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Since the lions live in a shut-off space, they are more prone to in-breeding, which also means they suffer from lower genetic diversity. All this conspires to greatly compromise the health of their species. In August, researchers at the National Park Service, UCLA, UC Davis, and Utah State University released a report saying that there's a 99.7% chance that the mountain lions will go extinct if they're not given a chance to roam outside of the Santa Monica Mountains.

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As noted in a statement by Senator Fran Pavley of the 27th District, Chesebro Meadow is adjacent to the proposed site for the overpass. The board's purchase, then, ensures that there'll be more open space for the wildlife there to roam across the bridge. "To those of us who have long been involved in conserving critical habitat in the region, this property has always been on our bucket list," Pavley said in a statement released on Wednesday. She added that the purchase is "a critical acquisition to protect against urban and incompatible encroachment into the wildlife corridor."

Intended to be the largest wildlife crossing in the world, the estimated $33 million to $38 million wildlife bridge will be privately funded. The details of the project are still under review. According to Thousand Oaks Acorn (note: The Acorn has newspapers across the Valley), Caltrans and the Agoura Hills City Council recently "butted heads"over the size of the proposed overpass, forcing designers to regroup and consider changes to the design and functionality of the bridge.

In light of board's action, Chesebro Meadow has been renamed as Fran Pavley Meadow, after the senator who acted as one of the major proponents of getting this motion passed.