The Bear Valley Springs Wildlife Coalition plans to continue its efforts to educate the community about a mountain lion study sponsored by the University of California, Davis.
Carolyn Corporon, public information officer for the coalition, said the organization plans to host Winston Vickers, the director and lead wildlife veterinarian at the university’s Drayer Wildlife Health Center, at a meeting in Bear Valley this spring. Vickers oversees the mountain life research project.
A proposed license agreement to allow researchers access to BVS lands was before the community services district board on Jan. 12. Following contentious discussion, the board voted 4-1 to table further consideration of the agreement and refer the matter to the district’s Administration Committee.
The Administration Committee took no action at its meeting Feb. 15, but Chair Charles Jensen, who is also vice president of the district’s board, said he believes the university must request access in a formal letter that would allow the district to assess what value such a study might have for the district and also the fiscal impact to the district and how related costs would be covered.
Corporon noted that the CSD Administration Committee is advisory only.
“Director Jensen does not have the authority to dictate that a letter must be forthcoming from Dr. Winston Vickers,” she said. “He can advise that the board give direction to the GM requesting such a letter.”
No related item is on the agenda for the district board’s regular meeting on Thursday, March 9.
According to notes included in a report on the Administration Committee published as part of the district’s Bear Necessities Newsletter on March 6, Jensen “directed staff not to include this item on future committee agendas without his approval.”
Vickers, in a phone interview on Feb. 20, said his first contact with the district was through Greg Hahn who was president of the Board of Directors at the time. Hahn did not run for reelection to the board last year and his term ended in early November. Hahn spoke in favor of allowing the mountain lion study at the board’s Jan. 12 meeting.
Vickers said the university can send a formal letter to the board. He noted that it wasn’t requested previously. He said he will continue to be in communication with the CSD’s manager and attorney.
Corporon said members of the BVS Wildlife Coalition, which is a community group separate from the CSD, previously met with Vickers to acquaint themselves with the UC Davis Mountain Lion Research Project as a preview related to their educational mission regarding BVS wildlife and habitat.
She added that the planned meeting for the community to meet Vickers and hear more about the study will be publicized once the date is confirmed.
The mountain lion study has been underway since 2001, initially in San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties. More than 200 mountain lions have been captured and collared during the study.
Vickers said that three more were captured and collared in the Tehachapi area during February.
Scientists have determined that mountain lion populations have been impacted by inbreeding and genetic fragmentation, likely primarily due to highways and development.
Interstate 5 and Highway 58 are possible barriers to mountain lion migration in the Tehachapi Mountains — and the Tehachapis are the linchpin connecting southern and coastal California mountain lion populations to those to the north in the Sierra Nevada, according to a presentation included in the packet for the Administration Committee’s February meeting.
As such, the Tehachapi Mountains are key to long-term population genetic health of multiple populations of mountain lions. And among potential barriers to gene flow, the presentation stated, is the planned high speed rail project.
“Mountain lions roam so widely that it helps us to have an array of animals,” Vickers said. “Bear Valley Springs, especially on the west side, has value for us.”
Researchers are trying to capture animals on both sides of Highway 58 and Interstate 5, he said.
“We’ll work on any particular area of land that benefits the research to have more areas to capture animals,” he said, noting that capture of more animals yields more data to help scientists understand them.
“These young males that are migrating, you don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said. “They can go 100 miles, we just don’t know.”
To determine baseline connectivity in the Tehachapis, the project is using camera monitoring of highway crossings in collaboration with Caltrans, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Davis Road Ecology Center, The Nature Conservancy and others.
The GPS collaring of mountain lions and collection of DNA samples from captured and deceased animals, as well as scat, also provide data.
Mountain Lion detections on UC Davis cameras have detected no I-5 or Highway 58 crossings between the Tehachapi area and Los Padres National Forest to the southwest.
And in more than a year of monitoring, UC Davis, Caltrans and CDFW cameras have not recorded any crossings of Highway 58.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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