Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar visits Malibu

The visit highlights a nationwide initiative that aims to reconnect people with the great outdoors through education and awareness.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

As part of a nationwide listening tour for America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with local park services officials and elected representatives last week at Solstice Canyon Park. President Obama launched the initiative in April to develop a conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century, based on innovative community-level efforts to conserve outdoor spaces, and to reconnect Americans to the great outdoors.

With twittering birds and rustling live oak trees forming a backdrop, National Parks Superintendent Woody Smeck spoke to a collection of local stakeholders of the unique, cooperative nature between federal, state and local agencies in shepherding the resources of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area.

“This initiative is President Obama’s attempt to reconnect people with the great outdoors through education and awareness,” Smeck said. “The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest national park (at 153,000 acres) situated next to a heavily urban setting in the whole country. We’ve created a bold model for future national parks conservation with creative cooperation of state, local and federal agencies working together.”

Smeck said there are three key elements to a successful collaboration in benefiting national parks: a great management plan for a stewardship framework; a “bottom up” procedure for local private/public direction fueled by grassroots communication; and a cooperative management agreement that allows federal authorities to move goods and services to state and local entities, thanks to Title 16 of the U.S. Code.

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“Visitors to our parks area don’t really care who owns what,” Smeck said. “They just want to enjoy our great outdoors and we have a seamless program in place here.”

During the past 30 years, this “seamless” lands management program was developed through a combination of federal, state and private acquisition of interlocking properties throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. As Congressman Brad Sherman, U.S. representative for the 27th District of California, said, this park would be great anywhere in the country.

“But considering it’s on the fringe of a metropolis with five million people, the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area is even more of a treasure,” Sherman said. “We must preserve it with more acquisition in Zuma and Trancas Canyons and a land swap with CEMEX [a gravel mining entity] for easements. This will be important to creating wildlife corridors to connect our furry friends with their cousins in the Angeles National Forest.”

The recent discovery of the birth of three mountain lion kittens-the first documented births in the Santa Monica Mountains since 2004-has highlighted the need to provide access to greater hunting areas for local wildlife. Highway 101 currently acts as an effective barrier to wildlife seeking to cross over to the Angeles National Forest.

State Sen. Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Julia Brownley also touted the uniquely cooperative relationship between federal and state agencies to provide educational and recreational services to underprivileged children.

“When we share the wonder and beauty of our outdoors with these children, we maybe set them on a path of conservation for the future,” Pavley said.

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, has been instrumental in negotiating local land acquisition deals. He acknowledged that recent acquisitions for the park came thanks to Los Angeles County and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who knew the landowner.

“This is the most beautiful urban-adjacent national park in the country,” Yaroslavsky said. “We wake up everyday thinking how we can grow this park area and protect it from environmental degradation. We must let land dictate development, not the other way around with regard to grading and ridgeline development. So subdivisions like Agoura and Calabasas in the Santa Monica Mountains will no longer be possible.”

When Secretary Salazar finally spoke, he hailed the cooperative agency relationships that created and guide the national recreation area.

“This park is the flagship for National Park Service in showing us how we can connect America’s people with the great outdoors again,” Salazar said. “Young people are losing touch with what it means to enjoy our parks. We count on the example you set to help us protect our open spaces for the next generation.”

More information about the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative can be accessed online at www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors

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