“Second 57 Freeway” Could Impact Whittier Wildlife

“Second 57 Freeway” Could Impact Whittier Wildlife

Orange County is exploring the widening of Brea Canyon Road from two lanes to four and adding a barrier median. The widening would occur between just north of Central Avenue and State College Boulevard in Brea to the Los Angeles-Orange County Line. However, local habitat experts say such a widening would have an adverse impact on biodiversity throughout the Puente-Chino Hills, including in Whittier.

The project is designed to deal with existing congestion on both Brea Canyon Road and the 57 Freeway, which it parallels. The County’s website for reports related to the project can be found here.

“It’s basically a second 57 freeway” was the private opinion of one board member of the Friends of the Whittier Hills. The Friends of the Whittier Hills, a longtime local conservation organization, opposes the widening without mitigation. They are joined in opposition by the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority, though the Authority is “open to discussing impact avoidance, mitigation, design, and other relevant matters”.

Claire Schlotterbeck, Executive Director of Hills for Everyone, highlighted the effect a widening of Brea Canyon Road would have on biodiversity:

“The expansion of Brea Canyon road would occur in  the only place wildlife can cross from the Chino Hills into the Puente Hills…If movement is curtailed or cut off it can leave the Puente Hills as an island of habitat with no ability for wildlife (especially the larger species) to get periodic fresh infusions of genes. In essence, they would only be dating their cousins and eventually they would die out due to inbreeding.” 

“I can’t emphasize enough how critically important it is to maintain wildlife movement through this area at the very least,” asserted Andrea Gullo, Executive Director of the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority. “This linkage will affect the Authority’s, many cities’ and the County of Los Angeles’ ongoing commitment to the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor.”

In a public comment on the project, the Authority notes that the Brea Canyon project is “located at a critical chokepoint within the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor”, and that, “Biologically, this area preserves a microcosm of the California Floristic Province, an identified biodiversity hot spot in North America and a genetic reserve for the continent which makes it regionally and globally significant.”

One species likely to be affected is the mountain lion, or cougar. A recent Hills for Everyone publication highlighted the importance of the cougar to the ecosystem: “If we lose the cougar, there is an explosion of mid-level predators like coyote, skunks, and opossums—and they are much better raiders of bird nests. As the bird population plummets, birds are no longer around to adequately distribute plant and tree seeds. So over time, a long time, the ecosystem collapses.”

Most major roads cutting through the Puente-Chino Hills Corridor have underpasses to accommodate wildlife migration. These include the 57 Freeway, Harbor Boulevard, and Colima Road.

According to Hills for Everyone, at the two public meetings that have been held in Brea, residents generally opposed the widening of Brea Canyon, viewing it as an invitation for more cars.

The project also crosses Brea Canyon Creek, currently channelized at three points, necessitating the replacement of three bridges and refurbishment of the creek channel. It would also require relocation of utility lines and would traverse an easement granted to offset previous developments.

Public comments are invited and may be submitted to Cindy Salazar, Senior Planner with the Orange County Department of Development Services. Email: Cindy.Salazar@ocpw.ocgov.com Mail: 601 N. Ross Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701

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