WAN Connects With The Mountain Lion Foundation After Judge Blocks California Development That Threatens The Survival Of Santa Ana Mountain Lions

In a victory over a development that would have doomed California mountain lions, a judge issued a ruling against the proposed 270-acre Altair development in Western Riverside County.

Judge Daniel Ottolia found that the development’s environmental review failed to properly account for impacts to imperiled Santa Ana mountain lions. The ruling also found that the development was not consistent with Temecula’s general plan or regional habitat conservation plan.

Part of the development sits on the 55-acre “South Parcel” — one of the only passages left for wildlife to move between coastal and inland mountains. The court also ruled against the development on a host of other issues, including that the environmental review incorrectly downplayed impacts on the imperiled western pond turtle and San Diego ambrosia.

“We applaud the Judge for handing down this important decision. The development would have blocked a critical habitat corridor that allows our most threatened wildlife, like California’s mountain lions, to move from the coastal area to the inland,” Debra Chase, CEO of Mountain Lion Foundation shared with WAN. “We don’t need more development right now, but we do need more protections for our wildlife and their habitat.”

The ruling comes just days before the state fish and game commission’s April 16th vote on whether to grant the Santa Ana mountain lions and five other cougar populations initial protections under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity and Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the state to protect these populations in June 2019, and state wildlife officials recommended in February 2020 that the petition move forward.

“The ruling affirms concerns raised by scientists and conservation groups that the Altair development could be a death knell for local mountain lions,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “The judge threw a lifeline to these highly imperiled cats, who need all the help they can get. Now, the city and developer have to go back to the drawing board and rethink this damaging project.”

Some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study. Researchers with National Park Service, UC Davis, and UCLA warn that if enough inbreeding occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica population within 15 years.

The lawsuit was filed in January 2018 by the Center for Biological Diversity, which represents the other conservation groups in the suit.

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