I Heart SCV
Minding the Wild
February, 2015 - Issue #124
Santa Clarita is the great compromise of Southern California living. You can enjoy the beach, but it's an hour's drive away, not a flip-flopped stroll. You can lay out in the summer sun, but it'll be 105 degrees, not 79. Santa Clarita, in sum, really excels at almost giving people what they want.

The one exception may be access to the wilderness of the Southland. Even the most home-loathing Claritan has to admit that when it comes to open space, we're pretty well stocked. The acreage-to-human ratio is so much better for us than the rest of LA, which packs onto the same congested trail at Runyon Canyon every weekend. Yes, we are practically one with nature in the SCV, but it's up to us to keep things wild and free.

Trails Old & New
There are a couple dozen trailheads in and around Santa Clarita, but we all seem to love Placerita Canyon best. In light of its great popularity among schools and families, the center's decades-old displays, facilities and trails have been renovated to welcome in 2015. Improvements were made with Prop 84 and LA County funds.

The other open spaces around Santa Clarita are a bit of a different story. Some are too new to serve the public rather than too old. Using open space funds collected from property owners annually, the city has been buying up thousands of acres of hillsides and canyons. Acquisitions outpace the addition of infrastructure like trails and parking, however, so there are several spots that have been bought but can't yet be used, such as Gateway Ranch. Other open spaces are smaller purchases in established neighborhoods. One's hike up Wildwood Canyon, for example, begins a few yards away from a family's home, which can be awkward for both parties. So there are undeniable imperfections to the aggressive open-space-acquisition program, yes, but it surely beats the alternative.

Bats are the New Quail
For over a decade, there's been an annual census of birds in Santa Clarita as part of the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. The count in 2014 found 121 species of birds, ranging from house sparrows to golden eagles. One troubling pattern to emerge has been the decline in California quail, our state bird. They're plump, bubbly, talkative creatures that get gobbled up by predators like they're nature's chicken nuggets, so it's hard not to feel protective of them. But Santa Clarita's are steadily disappearing. From a high count of 304 quail in 2005, there's been a decline to mere dozens. Only 62 were observed in 2013.

Meanwhile, our population of rabid bats has never been more robust. Dead bats are monitored by the LA Department of Public Health, and little Santa Clarita accounts for literally half of the rabid bats found in all of LA County for 2014. Their success doesn't seem connected to the demise of quail, but both trends are a reminder that we need to keep an eye on our animal neighbors.

He Heinriched it Up
The only time Claritans think about New Mexico is when they get handmade turquoise jewelry from Aunt Becky in Albuquerque or when they're nostalgically re-watching "Breaking Bad." But now, many not only know the name of New Mexico's Senator Martin Heinrich, they've also harassed him by phone and all available forms of social media. You see, at the end of the year, former Congressman McKeon finally passed a bill to stop CEMEX's mega-mining project in our backyard by compensating them with a sale of some of California's hinterlands. The specific way in which the bill passed in the House meant every member of the Senate needed to assent, but Heinrich fatally stalled the bill.

Oddly, Heinrich opposed the bill to end mining despite being an environmentalist. He said selling land to pay CEMEX set a bad precedent. So we're back to square one. Some have suggested that his name enter the local lexicon as a verb meaning "to foul up for everybody," but I'm more optimistic. Perhaps he can grow to heart SCV's wilderness as much as we do before the next attempt.
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