Ventura County Wildlife Corridor Ordinances Forge a Progressive Path

By Ann Larson, Board Member, Laguna Greenbelt, Inc.

Throughout California and beyond, practitioners of urban planning are waking up to the benefits that come from wildlife corridors – benefits for natural habitats, wildlife, and human society.  For more than three decades, Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. and its science advisors have expressed concern for wildlife movement through the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor – a six-mile habitat connection linking two distinct ecological regions with its central potion running through the middle of an urban portion in the City of Irvine. In this area, urban development throughout the twentieth century has resulted in extensive changes to the landscape, leading to areas with significant habitat fragmentation, a development pattern that continues today. 

After the City of Irvine worked with a local developer to add the central portion of the Corridor to their zoning code in 2013, and the completion of a wildlife camera study in 2017-2018, it was clear to the group that protections are necessary to ensure long-term connectivity between the coastal region and the mountains region. In researching other cities’/counties’ wildlife corridor regulations, the County of Ventura came to the group’s attention as a promising example for progressive connectivity policy.

Ventura County, like Orange County, has significant developed areas surrounding by undeveloped areas where habitat is fairly intact but is quickly becoming fragmented by roads and development. In 2017, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors expressed concern about manmade impacts to wildlife movement and directed planners to investigate regulations that would assist in maintaining wildlife connectivity from the ocean to the mountains and smaller areas between them.

Two Ordinances, Two Overlay Zones

In March 2019, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved two ordinances that apply to certain properties consisting of approximately 400,000 acres identified as being important for supporting local wildlife. These ordinances established two overlay zones, identified as the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor (HCWC) and the Critical Wildlife Passage Areas (CWPA), and included regulations to minimize development impacts to wildlife and their habitat. Overlay zones are an additional layer of planning control applied to properties in a clearly defined geographic area and function as tailored zoning districts with their own specialized set of regulations.

During the public hearings, these ordinances became controversial for some landowners and labor organizations. Some of the landowners subject to the proposed regulations viewed them as a violation of their property rights. However, many environmental and conservation organizations regarded these regulations as necessary to ensure biodiversity in the region.

Shortly after approval of these ordinances, a lawsuit was filed by the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business and the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association. Four conservation groups, Los Padres ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Parks Conservation Association, intervened to defend the ordinances. In February 2022, Ventura Superior Court judge, Mark S. Borrell issued a ruling upholding the ordinances. It is believed that these ordinances are the first of their kind in California.

In 2020, these ordinances received an Award of Excellence from the Central Coast Section of the American Planning Association – a prominent professional organization. The jurors noted that the ordinance is “an example to other jurisdictions that are interested in preserving critical linkages and biodiversity through an incentive-based approach to land use planning and regulation.”

 Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Overlay Zone

The stated purpose of the HCWC overlay zone is the preservation of functional connectivity for wildlife and vegetation throughout the overlay zone by minimizing:

  • Direct and indirect barriers;
  • Loss of vegetation and habitat fragmentation;
  • Impacts to those areas that are narrow, impacted, or otherwise tenuous with respect to wildlife movement.

Indirect barriers, such as outdoor lighting, can cause disorientation for nocturnal species, the disruption of feeding, mating, migrating, and the predator/prey balance.

Direct barriers such as fencing, roads, buildings, and removal of native habitat can restrict wildlife movement between habitats, thereby limiting access to essential food and water, and/or blocking access to potential mates. Larger animals, including birds, can become entangled in impermeable fencing and smaller animals can become trapped in cavities within open-top (uncapped) fence posts. To address this, the ordinance contains regulations that minimizes the use of wildlife-impermeable fencing, allowing animals to easily move through fencing.

Another threat to wildlife movement is habitat fragmentation due to urban developments. To minimize habitat fragmentation, the Ventura ordinance requires buffers around surface water features, such as streams and wildlife road crossings.  These buffers have multiple benefits. They limit removal of native vegetation, prohibit planting of invasive species to provide wildlife with a path to move through the landscape, reduce fire risks, and improve habitat quality. For example, the ordinance protects the area within 200 feet of a culvert from development disturbances, since these structures are frequented by wildlife for safe passage under a road.

Map of the Oak View Critical Wildlife Passage Area

Critical Wildlife Passage Areas Overlay Zone

The second ordinance addresses six identified wild passage areas needing special consideration. Three of these critical wildlife passage areas are located within the larger HCWC overlay zone. The CWPA overlay zone is designed to preserve wildlife movement due to any of the following:

  • The existence of intact native habitat or other habitat with important beneficial values for wildlife;
  • Proximity to water bodies or water courses;
  • Proximity to critical roadway crossings;
  • Likelihood of encroachment by future development which could easily disturb wildlife movement and plant dispersal;
  • Presence of non-urbanized or undeveloped lands within a geographic location that connects core habitats at a regional scale.

Regulations in this overlay zone apply to parcels two acres or greater (mostly all zoning districts) for any new structure or addition to an existing structure or initiation of a new land use that requires a zoning clearance or other permit. This represents a change in the permitting process for landowners who want to build on land parcels that are within this overlay area. Additionally, there are some prohibited actions on lots located this overlay zone, including installation of any new fence post or vertical posts that could trap small birds or other animals unless filled or capped and installation of new wildlife impermeable fencing that forms an enclosed area on a lot that has no lawfully established use or forms an enclosed area around the perimeter of a lot. If not specifically exempted by the ordinance, planting of invasive plants  is prohibited, as well.

The regulations applicable to both of these overlay zones apply on a case-by-case basis through a discretionary permit.  The regulations are incentive-based, rewarding applicants that approach the County having done their homework and plan to incorporate the regulations. If the proposed development complies with all of the applicable siting criteria and meets the general regulations, only a ministerial Zoning Clearance permit is required. However, if the development does not qualify for a Zoning Clearance, a discretionary permit is required. A Zoning Clearance permit requires supporting environmental impact documentation by qualified professionals, which is more costly for the applicant and will take significantly more time to demonstrate that the development is consistent with the stated development guidelines in the ordinances.

County of Ventura | Resource Management Agency

Considering future planning tools outside of Ventura County 

Interestingly, a portion of the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor already exemplifies solutions for wildlife that can emerge from partnerships between public municipalities and private landowners. Using existing tools, such as the zoning code, the City of Irvine and FivePoint Holdings, LLC, came to an agreement when the company proposed a housing development plan on the defunct El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. In 2013, after a lengthy process, a portion of the developer’s plan was zoned as a wildlife corridor in the City of Irvine. FivePoint Holdings, LLC is currently developing and funding the creation of the central reach of the Corridor adjacent to new homes. In the case of wildlife corridors in urban landscapes, a little goes a long way and a thin strip of designated habitat for animal movement can be the ‘penny of prevention’ that prevents future crises in animal populations. In Irvine, the successful partnership between private and public stakeholders is a positive move in the right direction.

Jurisdictions may also have other tools that are used to identify and protect wildlife corridor areas. Among these can be found land trust designations, conservation easements, purchase of development rights, open space designations, and others.

Despite the many methods that exist for incorporating wildlife corridors, planners must continue to use tools in innovative ways to ensure responsible development practices. The Ventura County ordinances seem to be the first of their kind in the state of California and were crafted through a process incorporating the input of landowners, expert researchers, conservation groups, and other stakeholders in an effort to provide for the needs of animal movement as well as accommodate the reasonable needs of landowners to develop their land. It represents a possible model to study for municipalities such as those in Orange County that want to preserve and enhance landscape connectivity in their jurisdiction. As the months and years go by, it remains to be seen how these ordinances impact on-the-ground wildlife movement and development patterns. The hope is that people can learn to better coexist with their wildlife neighbors and put into practice emerging knowledge about how preserving animal movement and wildlife corridors can be a win-win for everyone.

A copy of the Ordinances can be found at:

About the author: Ann Larson worked thirty-three years as a City Planner, 26 of which were in Laguna Beach, where she retired. She loves to hike in the open space areas in and around Laguna.

The 30 X 30 Initiative: How The Wildlife Corridor Can Participate

The state of California is at the forefront of climate policy in the United States. To address climate issues, California adopted the 30×30 initiative. This program is designed to preserve 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030 and has been adopted by over 100 countries, including the United States. The goals are to protect biodiversity, improve equitable access to nature for all, and combat climate change. While approximately 24% of California’s lands and 16% of coastal waters are protected,  there are many additional areas not currently considered part of the program because they are fragmented, decreasing their functionality for plants and wildlife.

Images of a “kinked tail”, researched by Huffmeyer et al.1

Wildlife corridors act as “land bridges” that connect green spaces for wildlife to move between habitat areas. When animal populations are cut off from the ability to travel and become isolated, inbreeding can affect species’ fitness. Scientists refer to these effects as inbreeding depression. Without the ability to breed with genetically diverse mates, related individuals reproduce and have offspring that may express genetic mutations such as the “kinked tail” seen in mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains region.

As temperatures are increasing due to climate change, we are looking for ways to encourage resilience in our communities. In this new reality, some animals and plants may need to travel and shift into new habitats. We can support these natural processes with our development practices, policies, and individual actions. There must be protected lands that contain habitable ecosystems to ensure the survival of native species. We are fortunate that the South Coast Wilderness/Greenbelt and surrounding lands are being considered a priority project by the 30 x 30 initiative for “climate resilience” in Orange County. The Laguna Greenbelt and surrounding lands are joined to designated natural lands to the north and east of Irvine via the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor, with the Corridor being an essential spine connecting more than 100,000 acres of natural lands. Not only do these acres act as green space for plants and wildlife, but they provide many co-benefits, such as a place for water to travel during the rainy season. These functions support climate change adaptation on the land for plants and animals and, by extension, human society.

Reserve Map – Natural Communities Coalition

This region includes the Southern and Northern Reserves as designated by the State Natural Community Conservation Plan and the federal Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP). To the south resides the 22,000 acres which include Also and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Crystal Cove State Park, and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The northern portion of Orange County that is protected includes Cleveland National Forest, Whiting Ranch, and Limestone Canyon which amount to over 150,000 acres of open space for wildlife. Between these preserved areas is the bustling city of Irvine, California. Characterized by its expansive roadways and large housing communities, one could imagine the difficulty of navigating the city as a small creature.

This is where the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor can function as a pathway specifically designed and built for wildlife. Animals travel through the concrete channels of the Irvine Spectrum, along the eastern edge of the Great Park, and eventually make their way through the Corridor into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains! The primary obstacle that impacts the ability of wildlife to travel freely is the I-5 Freeway. As it cuts through the City of Irvine, the I-5 is a barrier for wildlife to move between the Southern and Northern Reserves. With additional planning, solutions to overcome this obstacle can be implemented to allow safe passage. With the help and support from local citizens, city officials, and the State, the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor will contribute to regional climate change resilience as a 30×30 project.

Source: 1Huffmeyer, Audra A., et al. “First reproductive signs of inbreeding depression in Southern California male mountain lions (Puma concolor).” Theriogenology 177 (2022): 157-164.

Coexistence is Possible: Coyotes and Humans

by Sinem Kargin, Science Advisor for Laguna Greenbelt, Inc.

Why should we coexist with coyotes in urban and suburban settings?

The identity of the animal source of the coronavirus is still unknown. Many species are suggested as possible sources due to the similarity of its genetic sequence to those of other known coronaviruses such as bats, pangolins (long-snouted, ant-eating mammals), and snakes. This epidemic made many city residents question how they should act when they encounter wildlife in their backyards, neighborhood, and adjacent parks or open spaces. Although close contact with wildlife may increase the risk of known or novel infectious diseases among human communities, their presence is also essential for healthy ecosystems, which does not require close contact at all.  There are a lot of reasons why humans should coexist with top predators in urban and suburban settings. Today, I am going to address some of these reasons in the hope of increasing awareness of these reasons.

A food chain shows how each living thing gets food, and how nutrients and energy are passed from creature to creature; it begins with plants (at the bottom of the food chain) and ends with top predators (at the top of the food chain). Top predators have no natural predators. Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are considered the remaining top predators in coastal southern California. These top predators play essential roles in balancing the number of mesopredators (the mid-ranking predator in the food chain), which typically prey on smaller animals (Figure 1).  When top predators are taken out of the food web by human causes, the number of mesopredators increases (Crooks and Soule 1999). This increase results in significant consequent changes in the food chain. For example, mesopredators reduce the number of strategic bird pollinators and thus reduce biodiversity among native grasses and shrubs in the region (Soule et al. 1988; Soule and Terborgh 1999). Altered native plant communities in the area also change the fire frequency, invasion of nonnative plants along with favorable soil features (e.g., decreased soil moisture, altered soil microorganisms.) (Chapin et al. 2000). On top of these, climate change exacerbates the situation even further due to abnormal alterations in seasons (e.g., longer wet seasons or droughts) and overall temperature, which expands the dispersal rate of infectious diseases in general. For instance, Soverow et al. (2009) showed in their studies that there is a close connection between the overall increased maximum weekly temperature and the dispersal of West Nile virus (WNV) in California.

Unbalanced food chain interaction also increases the emergence of infectious diseases driven by changes in the host and non-host community interactions in the food chain; for instance, the current increase in Lyme disease emergence due to the century-long population recovery of deer (Levi et al. 2012).  Given the importance of all the links in the local food chain, we must ask ourselves how can we possibly coexist with the top predators, yet prevent conflicts with them and avoid possible disease agents in urban areas? Many scientists, policymakers, profit, and non-profit organizations try to answer this question to provide a healthy ecosystem to the communities in inner and outer cities.

Many large predators are either extinct or facing extinction in urban settings (Crooks 2002). Mountain lions and bobcats are both currently facing extinction in the coastal southern California region. Yet, coyotes have managed to survive and flourish despite rapid human development. Their intelligence, resourcefulness, and the disappearance of wolves, which reduced the competition between the wolves and coyotes (Benson and Patterson 2013), play a significant role in their success. Coyotes expanded their range in every state in the United States (except Hawaii) since 1900 (Berg and Chesness 1978). 

Typically, coyotes are elusive animals that avoid contact with humans. They are most active after dusk and before daylight and usually seen only at a distance. However, some coyotes have adapted to parks, open spaces, and residential areas so well, it seems like they have lost their fear of humans. In turn, this yielded an increase in sightings in inner cities. Although most of the sightings in urban settings are harmless, some people developed strong negative opinions toward these animals anyway. The hysteria mainly stems from ‘possible’ attacks to humans and/or their free wandering pets. City dwellers are calling and harassing local animal control authorities to act upon frequent coyote sightings in their communities because they feel ‘threatened’ by these animals without understanding the consequences of their actions. Lack of knowledge about these animals plays an essential role in this behavior. If people know that there are only two known fatalities due to coyote attack (one in California in 1981 and the other in Canada in 2009) (Baker and Timm 2017, they might act differently.

Food set out continually for a pet, fallen fruit left in the yard, a small dog running off-leash, a free wandering cat in the neighborhood, or a bird feeder stocked year-round are the ‘easy’ food sources that bring the coyotes to backyards and neighborhoods. However, many effective and eco-friendly measurements can be taken to minimize or eliminate the possible attacks within the urbanized areas.  For example, securing garbage containers, installing coyote-proof fencing, and keeping pet foods indoor can be considered one of the most useful small-scale individual preventive measurements that can be taken by urban residents. On the other hand, allocating wildlife corridors (i.e., linkages) among the core habitats in urban settings can be considered the most effective large-scale preventive action that can be taken by cities or states.  For example, the City of Irvine allocated two wildlife corridors in 1996 as a state and federal effort around the University of California Irvine Campus to connect two main core habitats in the area– Upper Newport Bay and Laguna Coast Wilderness (Figure 2).  Effective wildlife corridors in urban settings are the most beneficial way to allow these animals to coexist with humans without putting the nearby communities in danger. Currently, I am assessing the effectiveness of these established wildlife corridors in Irvine as my capstone project in the Masters of Conservation and Restoration Science Program. With my study, I aim to change the negative perception of these animals in society. Also, I hope to pinpoint which factors (e.g., lack of fencing along the corridors) reduce the effectiveness of these established corridors and, therefore, result in frequent animal coyote sightings in neighborhoods, parks, and parks and open spaces in the city.

At present, there is no known infectious disease spread associated with coyotes in coastal southern California. However, we know that the number of top predators and the variation in their behaviors can strongly shape pest suppression in a region. As individuals, we have to educate ourselves before we put pressure on local animal control authorities for the sake of self-sustaining ecosystems and healthy communities in and outer cities. Otherwise, the removal of coyotes from (by humans) the ecosystem would create a ‘cascade’ effect that would eventually lead to an outbreak because of the increased number of rodents under the absence of top predators. 


  1. Baker, R.O., & Timm, R. (2017). Coyote Attacks on Humans, 1970-2015: Implications for Reducing the Risks.
  2. Benson J, Patterson BR, 2013. Interspecific territoriality in a Canis hybrid zone: Spatial segregation between Wolves, Coyotes, and Hybrids. Oecologia.
  3. Berg WE, Chesness RA, 1978. Ecology of coyotes in northern Minnesota. In: Coyotes: biology, behavior and management [ed. by Bekoff, M.]. New York, USA: Academic Press, 229-247.
  4. Chapin, F. S. et al. Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405, 234–242 (2000).
  5. Crooks, K. R. & Soulé, M. E. 1999. Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature, 400, 563-566.
  6. Crooks, K. R. 2002. Relative sensitivities of mammalian carnivores to habitat fragmentation. Conservation Biology 16:488-502.
  7. Levi, T., Kilpatrick, A. M., Mangel, M., & Wilmers, C. C. (2012). Deer, predators, and the emergence of Lyme disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America109(27), 10942–10947.
  8. Soulé, M. E. & Terborgh, J. 1999. Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks. Washington, D.C.: Island Press
  9. Soulé, M. E., Bolger, D. T., Alberts, A. C., Wrights, J., Sorice, M. and Hill, S. (1988), Reconstructed Dynamics of Rapid Extinctions of Chaparral‐Requiring Birds in Urban Habitat Islands. Conservation Biology, 2: 75-92. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739. 1988.tb00337.
  10. Soverow JE, Wellenius GA, Fisman DN, Mittleman MA. Infectious disease in a warming world: how weather influenced West Nile virus in the United States (2001–2005) Environ Health Perspect. 2009;117:1049–1052.

Results of Multi-Year Wildlife Camera Study in Irvine Show a Worrying Trend


Results of Multi-Year Wildlife Camera Study in Irvine Show a Worrying Trend

Laguna Woods, California – September 11, 2019 – Results of a multi-year study of activity in a wildlife corridor connecting the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to the Cleveland National Forest are now available for public view. Since the late 1990s, progress has been made on completing the 6-mile long corridor, aimed at providing safe animal movement through the urban landscape to adjacent conservation areas in Laguna and Inland hills. This study has been done to examine how well the existing corridor is working and to identify improvements for enhanced wildlife passage. 

Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., a local environmental organization, planned and executed the study, using 21 cameras to examine wildlife movements in the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor (also called the Irvine Wildlife Corridor and Orange County Wildlife Corridor). Data was collected by an army of dedicated volunteers over nearly two years.

The study cameras were motion-triggered and automatically took pictures and videos of animals as they passed by the cameras, day and night. The resulting data set contains thousands of photos and showed bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, rabbits, many smaller mammals, and even people. 

After data collection, Kevin Clark, Director of Biological Services for the San Diego Natural History Museum, analyzed the findings and authored a report. He presented a summary of the report Wednesday, September 11 at the Coastal Greenbelt Authority meeting in the Laguna Woods Council Chambers, along with John Foley, Board member at Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. and volunteer data collector for the project.

“Most camera studies are three to six months long, but this study has almost two years of data,” he said during the presentation. “I’m really impressed with what this group did.” 

Images revealed a variety of surprising trends, such as human use of the wildlife corridor that discouraged animal activity and a concerning lack of animals in places where they had previously been more plentiful. Mr. Clark also noted that compared to a study published in 2007 by USGS in the same area, the data show that fewer target species are now frequenting the areas near road crossings, indicating a worrying trend towards fewer animals in our fragmented urban landscape. 

The final section of the report gives a list of some low cost measures that can encourage the use of road crossings to a variety of animals.  The full report can be found and downloaded free of charge here.

To contact Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. about publishing more on this story, please fill out form below.


Wildfires and Nature’s Road Home

We need to have a little talk about wildfires and corridors.

We are well into wildfire season here in Southern California, and experts warn that our ‘new normal’ will include a longer fire season that will feature bigger, hotter, and more destructive fires. Here at Laguna Greenbelt, Inc, we can’t help but ask:  What happens to all the wild animals when wildfires occur, and how can we help them survive these terrifying events?

Just like people, many of these animals flee. Check out one serendipitous capture of fleeing animals during the Canyon Fire 2 in Anaheim Hills in 2017:

Just like people, animals need pathways of escape when fire (or another disaster) threatens their home. Animals living in an area with ample open space are lucky – when a fire comes they have many options for escaping. But, for those animals that find themselves in landscapes fragmented by development –  ‘fenced in’ by roads or other urban structures – wildlife corridors can offer important escape routes to a safe place.

Here in Orange County, this month’s Holy Fire burned over 22,000 acres in the Santa Ana Mountains, along the border of Orange and Riverside Counties. This includes part of Cleveland National Forest- the very ‘Cleveland’  referred to in the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor, which connects these Santa Ana Mountains to the Laguna Coastal Wilderness parks. On another day, during another fire, is it possible this corridor could be the only potential escape route for our wild neighbors?

The good news is the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor is marching towards completion. It’s a unique project because it requires putting a strip of habitat back into an area that is now highly urban. When it’s completed, animals in the Santa Ana Mountains – bobcats, coyotes, and more – will be able to travel to the coastal wilderness areas around Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Aliso Viejo, and adjacent areas. Likewise, animals that have been isolated on the coast will be able to move inland to find fresh resources and mates…not only during a disaster, but anytime.

These animals are depending on us to keep working to make the corridor a success so that they have a chance.

When there’s a fire, escaping isn’t the end of the story. For bobcats, coyotes, rabbits, and deer, a wildlife corridor also means having a way home again. Isn’t that something that everyone can get behind?

*Learn more about the progress of the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor in urban Irvine, California at:

*Share @lagunagreenbet and @binxbobcat on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook







Civic Engagement: Forum to Discuss 133 Widening Thursday July 5

Have you heard about CalTrans’ proposal for Laguna Canyon Road? Come to a presentation by Laguna Canyon Foundation, Greg and Barbara MacGillivray, and Laguna Beach CANDO covering the overall project and its impacts on our community and canyon.

Join the meeting to get information and discuss community concerns about the impacts of the proposed project to widen highway 133.

When: Thursday, July 5th, 5 – 7 PM

Where: Susi Q Senior Center

380 3rd St, Laguna Beach


You can read about the proposed changes and their impacts on our open space here:

All public comments to CalTrans are due by July 10th!

Executive Director of Laguna Canyon Foundation, Hallie Jones, was on KX 93.5 this Sunday talking about the project and LCF’s views on the proposal: – discussion of CalTrans’ Laguna Canyon Road project starts at about 43:40 (click “play” and then click on the green bar underneath to skip ahead).