Saving the Santa Monica Mountains One Parcel at a Time

TreePeople Land Trust’s recent 79-acre acquisition in the Santa Monica Mountains could be a game-changer for the La Sierra Preserve.

If you’ve ever taken Coldwater Canyon Avenue south to Beverly Hills or the West End, you probably noticed the big sign for TreePeople at Mulholland Boulevard. TreePeople is the largest environmental organization headquartered in Southern California and as the name suggests, the organization’s focus is trees–planting, reforesting, protecting. TreePeople Land Trust is an affiliate of the organization that acquires wildlands for the purpose of preservation.

Its recent 79-acre acquisition near the La Sierra Preserve will improve access for volunteers, employees and scientists, according TreePeople Land Trust Deputy Director Kevin Gaston.

Since its formation in the 1980’s, the TreePeople Land Trust has acquired and oversees 3,000 acres of wildlands. Since the early 2000’s, the organization has acquired about 125 acres of land at the La Sierra Preserve in the Santa Monica Mountains to preserve in perpetuity. This includes a 10-acre parcel believed to include the original homestead site of Alice Ballard, an African American pioneer who lived in the Los Angeles area from 1869 to 1937.

“There’s a lot of really incredible habitat out there–freshwater wetlands, some unique and threatened species exist on the site as well as a lot of archeological and historical resources,” said Gaston.

The problem so far has been a lack of access to the land. Situated between Agoura Hills and Malibu at a section of the Mulholland Highway known as “The Snake,” there is no shoulder parking near the preserve and therefore, no parking. The newly acquired parcel will offer ample shoulder parking, allowing TreePeople and its partners and affiliates to better steward the land, and there is much stewarding needed.

Since the 2018 Wolseley Fire many invasive plant species have moved in. When they are eventually able to host volunteer events, TreePeople will be able to ramp up the work to restore the habitat.

“So, we’re really excited about this acquisition,” Gaston said.

With an extensive trail network currently inaccessible from the road, TreePeople Land Trust hopes to open the site up to the public in a way that balances recreation with sensitivity to the environmental, historical and archeological resources. Gaston said public access is a key part of fostering support to preserve wildlands such as these.

Preservation in the Santa Monica Mountains presents some unique challenges. If you look at a map, the mountains look like a patchwork with a bunch of little green squares where protected land lies. These protected lands are spread out among about 10 different agencies and organizations.

“I don’t think people really realize how much of the land is actually unprotected,” said Gaston. He said, acre-for-acre, the land is as biodiverse as any region on the planet and in desperate need of preservation.

“We have a lot of endemic species, and the more charismatic species such as mountain lions and foxes that live in close proximity to one of the largest metropolises on earth,” said Gaston. “So, it really is unique because we have so much to protect right next to so many people that, as the pandemic showed, are really in need of outdoor recreation… that release from the stresses of city life.”

“There are a lot of challenges associated with preserving the Santa Monica Mountains but also high rewards,” he added.

At the moment, the road is closed in the section due to lasting damage from the Wolseley Fire which has made the road unstable and unsafe. Construction efforts are expected to begin this summer and TreePeople Land Trusts expects to be able to let volunteers in as early as next winter, according to Gaston.

“We’re really happy to announce this acquisition. It was years in the making, so we’re excited to finally get it closed and we’ll continue expanding the preserve with our eyes on a number of other parcels,” Gaston said.

To donate or volunteer with TreePeople and TreePeople Land Trust, visit their websites.



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