Questions from the Community about the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridors Project
Information about Wildlife Corridors in Ventura County
1. What is a wildlife corridor?
A: Wildlife corridors are areas of land that connect large areas of habitat where animals live and move. These corridors help animals move through natural areas. The fragmentation of natural areas within Ventura County due to development patterns can limit the ability of animal populations to move to areas they need for survival. Wildlife and natural resource specialists consider the protection and enhancement of existing habitat connectivity linkages to be essential to the future health of the County’s natural resources.
2. Where are the wildlife corridors located in Ventura County?
A: There are several wildlife corridors in Ventura County that are shown on the County’s Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor map.
The Sierra Madre – Castaic Connection: This connection has corridors that generally run east/west and are in the central to northern part of Ventura County. This connection includes the upper reach of the Ventura River.
The Santa Monica – Sierra Madre Connection: This connection includes two separate linkages, the Santa Monica Mountains - Santa Susana Mountains linkage and the Santa Susana Mountains-Sierra Madre Mountains linkage. These linkages generally run in a north/south direction and connect the Santa Monica Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. This connection also includes the Santa Clara River.
The Ventura River Corridor:This connection includes the lower reach of the Ventura River, from the southern area of Lake Casitas to the Ventura River estuary at the ocean mouth.
3. How were these boundaries determined?
A: The Corridor boundaries were developed as part of a project to map areas that are used by a large variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and plants (seeds) to access protected areas of habitat that are critical for their long-term survival. The maps were created using widely-accepted conservation planning techniques and they were based on the expertise of many scientists and subject-matter experts. The project culminated in a report titled South Coast Missing Linkages: A Wildland Network for the South Coast Ecoregion (South Coast Wildlands, 2008). According to the study authors, the objective of the project was “…to protect an interconnected system of natural space where our native biodiversity can thrive at minimal cost to other human endeavors.”
4. What are Critical Wildlife Passage Areas?
A: There are three critical wildlife passage areas (CWPAs) located in the boundaries of the larger Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridors: an area between Oak View and Lake Casitas; the Simi Hills including Bell Canyon, Box Canyon, and the Santa Susana Knolls; and the Tierra Rejada Valley - Click here to see the Critical Wildlife Passage Area Maps.
Planning Division staff, in consultation with wildlife experts, identified these areas as being particularly critical for facilitating wildlife movement due to the following conditions: (1) the existence of intact native habitat or other habitat with important beneficial values for wildlife; 2) proximity to water bodies or ridgelines; 3) proximity of critical roadway crossings used by wildlife; 4) likelihood of encroachment by future development, and within which wildlife movement and plant dispersal could be easily disturbed by development; or 5) presence of non-urbanized or undeveloped lands within a geographic location that connects core habitats at a regional scale.
Specific regulations apply to properties within these areas. (See Question Nos. 13 and 14.)
5. What about other areas in the County where wildlife moves? Why aren’t they in the Corridor?
A: The main objective of the South Coast Missing Linkages project (see How were these boundaries determined? above) was to identify the routes certain key animals need to move between protected habitats. The Linkages project did not result in a comprehensive map of all the areas used by wildlife in Ventura County.
Information about the Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Project
6. Why is the Planning Division working on this project and what does it include?
A: The Ventura County Board of Supervisors directed the County Planning Division to develop regulations that would protect habitat connectivity and wildlife movement corridors within the non-coastal area of the County. The project includes proposed revisions to the Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance (NCZO) and revisions to certain County policies that deal with wildlife movement that are part of the County’s General Plan.
7. When will the project be completed?
A: The anticipated timeframe for final approval is spring 2019. The project must be considered by both the Ventura County Planning Commission and the Ventura Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission hearing is currently scheduled for January 31, 2019. However, the project will be complete only if the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approves the proposed revisions to the General Plan and Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance. The Board of Supervisors hearing is currently scheduled for March 12, 2019.
8. How can I be involved and share my opinions?
A: Any member of the public can attend the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings. (See Question No. 7 above) People can choose to speak at these hearings or written comments can be submitted to Planning Division staff or directly to the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors.
9. How will this project benefit wildlife?
A: Habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from urban growth are the leading threats to biodiversity worldwide, and this risk is particularly severe in southern California, which is home to over 400 species of native plants and animals considered endangered, threatened or sensitive by government agencies and conservation groups. Countering these threats requires protecting connections between existing open space areas that form a regional wildland network.
Protecting these connections between wildlands allows natural ecological processes, such as migration, to continue operating as they have for millennia. Movement is essential to wildlife survival, whether it be the day-to-day movements of individuals seeking food, shelter, or mates, dispersal of offspring to find new homes, or seasonal migration to find favorable conditions.
Disruption of these natural movement patterns by roads, development, or other impediments can alter these essential ecosystem functions and lead to losses of species. These effects can cascade from one level of an ecosystem to another with the impact of one species affecting the other, for example:
• Food production: Adverse impacts to pollinators can affect food production;
• Disease transmission: Loss of diversity in plant and animal populations can result in reduced resistance to diseases and increased spread of disease; and
• Air and water purification:Loss of vegetation can increase runoff, which increases siltation in water bodies and reduces the natural purification process provided by an intact ecosystem.
10. I have seen animals around my property that move around without any problems, and there are already laws to protect wildlife. Why is this project necessary?
A: While there are existing laws to protect threatened and endangered species, as well as certain types of important habitats such as wetlands, there are no laws in place to protect the thousands of acres specifically identified as critical corridors, where wildlife moves between fragmented habitats. Also, while you may see animals on your property, this does not necessarily mean that wildlife is not negatively impacted by the effects of development, including impermeable fences, bright lights, roads, etc. (See Question No. 9 for additional information.)
Information about the Proposed Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Ordinance Revisions – How will the Ordinance impact my property?
11. Will I be prohibited from developing my lot if I’m in a wildlife corridor?
A: You will still be able to build new homes, conduct agricultural and other industrial activities, build additions to existing homes and build accessory structures on your property. However, new regulations would apply. See Question Nos. 12 and 13 below for more information. [Note: Only summary information is provided below. For specific definitions, which are italicized below, ordinance provisions, exemptions, and prohibitions, please review the draft ordinance. Click here
12. What new regulations would apply?
A: If your property is within a Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor, but not within a “Critical Wildlife Passage Area” (see Question No. 4 for CWPA information), the following regulations would apply to your new development:
• Outdoor night-lighting regulations that address fixture brightness and shielding will apply to new development. Some outdoor lights will need to be turned off between 10:00 p.m. and sunrise, or when people are no longer present, except for essential lighting (e.g., those used for walkways), which can be left on.
• Development sited within 200-ft. of a surface water feature or identified wildlife crossing will generally require a discretionary permit. Ministerial permits may be issued solely for the removal of invasive plants. New structures that do not require a building permit pursuant to the existing zoning ordinance or do not require brush clearance for fire prevention purposes, and removal of vegetation associated with the harvesting of commercial agricultural crops, are exempt from the proposed regulations.
• The amount of wildlife impermeable fencing that can be installed is limited. The fencing regulations only apply to lots zoned Open Space (OS) or Agricultural – Exclusive (AE). Examples of impermeable fencing include, electric, chain link, welded wire, mesh fence (plastic or wire material), wrought iron, and any fencing with a solid surface such as wood panel fencing or cinderblock). Standard pipe corrals and wire strand (including barbed wire) cattle fencing are not regulated provided, that they are not higher than 60 inches above grade. Generally, an over-the-counter (ministerial) permit is required if the amount of land with impermeable fencing is limited to ten percent of the gross lot area, (e.g., on a 20-acre parcel, two acres can be enclosed with impermeable fencing). A discretionary permit is required only if the amount of impermeable fencing exceeds ten percent. All wildlife impermeable fencing within 50 feet from any dwelling or a principal structure related to agriculture, is exempt from the ten-percent limitation. Additional exemptions include impermeable fencing used to protect commercial agricultural crops.
• The intentional planting of invasive plants is prohibited unless they are being planted as commercial agricultural crops or grown as commercial nursery stock. An “invasive plant” is any species of plant included on the California Invasive Plant Council Invasive Plant Checklist for California Landscaping, as amended.
13. What regulations apply if I want to develop my property and it’s within a Critical Wildlife Passage Area?
A: The regulations outlined in Question No. 12 above apply within CWPAs. In addition, there are other provisions that require more compact development to help maintain undeveloped areas that serve as linkages for wildlife movement. The compact siting standards apply only to lots over two acres in all zones except those zoned Commercial and residentially-zoned lots within the Simi Hills CWPA.
The standard allows for a ministerial permit for most new structures, additions, uses, and installation of wildlife impermeable fences, provided they are sited exclusively in one of two contiguous areas of the lot, or if they are located within 100 feet of a public road or street or an existing structure, use, driveway, or publicly accessible trail on the same lot.
Development proposals involving new uses, or wildlife impermeable fencing on both sections of the lot, require a discretionary permit.
14. If I’m in a CWPA, will I be prohibited from using one-half of my property?
A: The proposed CWPA regulations described in Question No. 13 above apply to land uses currently subject to a ministerial or discretionary permitting requirement and, the installation of wildlife impermeable fencing in Open Space and Agricultural Exclusive zones. Examples of uses that are not subject to the proposed CWPA regulations and therefore may be located on any portion of a lot pursuant to the provisions of the current zoning ordinance include: crop and orchard production, on-site composting operations up to 10 cubic yards, animal keeping and animal husbandry, accessory uses such as open storage and underground fuel storage, patios, paving, decks, play structures, outdoor furniture, and fences or retaining walls that do not meet the definition of wildlife impermeable fencing.
The following uses, except for associated structures, are also exempt from the CWPA regulations: apiculture, aquaculture/aquiculture, vermiculture (open beds), agricultural promotional uses, cemeteries, cultural/historic uses, filming activities, firewood operations, drilling for temporary geologic testing, botanic gardens and arboreta, athletic fields, golf courses, parks, and wholesale nurseries for propagation.
In addition, the following are exempt from the CWPA regulations: agricultural shade/mist structures, animal shade structures, water production, storage, transmission, and distribution facilities, aboveground pipelines and transmission lines, construction and maintenance of driveways or roads internal to a lot, development on any lot zoned as commercial, structures or improvements that are temporary or are located entirely or substantially underground, activities associated with oil and gas exploration and production except those which requires a new discretionary permit or modification to an existing discretionary permit.
As stated in Question No. 13, new development, uses, or wildlife impermeable fencing on both sections of the lot, require a discretionary permit.
15. How does the “Compact Siting Standard” apply if I want to subdivide a developed lot within a CWPA?
A: The regulations do not preclude subdividing lots.
16. Do the regulations apply to existing development or development currently permitted?
A: No. The regulations generally apply to new structures or uses that require a land use permit or entitlement, or existing structures or uses that require a new discretionary permit, or modification to an existing discretionary permit.
17. How will these regulations impact agricultural activities?
A: Most agricultural activities and structures are exempt from the proposed regulations. These exemptions include, but are not limited to planting or harvesting of crops or orchards that will be commercially sold; construction and maintenance of driveways or roads internal to a lot; and removal of vegetation associated with the production of agricultural crops on previously cultivated agricultural land that may have been left uncultivated for up to ten years. In addition, fencing necessary to enclose commercially grown plants and plant products, or to protect public health and safety as determined by a public agency, or to enclose a water well or pump house are exempt.
18. Will I be allowed to clear weeds/brush from my property in compliance with the mandatory fuel modification zone required by the Ventura County Fire Protection District for fire prevention purposes?
A: Yes. The proposed regulations will not result in any changes to the existing Ventura County Fire Protection District requirements.
19. Can I still use security lights on my property?
A: Yes. Security lighting is allowed. Some security lighting, depending on how bright it is, requires motion sensors, so that the bright lights are not constantly illuminated. However, certain types of essential lighting, such as lights used for walkways, dormitories, etc. are allowed to stay on.
20. How will this ordinance be enforced?
A: The regulations will be enforced the same way most other ordinance provisions are enforced. Click here to see information regarding Ventura County Zoning Code Enforcement services.