State and federal officials announced a new study into the local mountain sides.

State and federal officials announced a new study into the local mountain sides.

PASADENA — Rep. Adam Schiff on Friday announced the start of the long awaited study of the region’s hillsides that could ultimately result in the federal protection of local area.

The announcement was a major milestone for Schiff (D-Burbank), who began lobbying for the so-called “Rim of the Valley” study in 2001. The study was authorized as part of federal legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2008.

Two years later, the study was allocated $500,000, which will begin with an extensive public outreach and exploration process this summer.

“It’s a long process...I’m glad we have finally reached the stage of this study getting underway,” Schiff said Friday to a group of stakeholders and community activists gathered at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

The final recommendations could help preserve the more 500,000 acres above the San Fernando, La Crescenta, Santa Clarita Simi and Conejo valleys that are known collectively as the Rim of the Valley.

The study will create a “conservation strategy” and examine the feasibility of including some or all of the land into the federally protected Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

It will include public outreach, analysis of the wildlife and natural resources found in the mountain sides and how the federal government may get involved in protecting them. 
Federal protection could essentially limit development in the open space areas which officials say are losing linkages essential for the maintenance of local ecosystems.

“If they become completely disconnected, we are going to lose much of it,” Schiff said.

The study area consists of parts of the Santa Monica, Santa Susana, San Gabriel, and Verdugo mountains, as well as the San Rafael Hills and adjacent connector areas to the Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests.

Officials acknowledged that the study would take several years to complete with a final report to Congress scheduled for 2014. Any implementation of the study’s recommendations would require additional action by federal or state lawmakers.

“We’ve come a long way,” said state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), one of several local lawmakers who lobbied for the original legislation. “We still have a long way to go.

Jody Noiron, forest supervisor for the Angeles National Forest, said the study will need to balance preservation with the growing desire for public access to the land.

“Our challenge is we’ve got to find a way to get the other 17-plus million people in the Los Angeles Basin to care as much as we do about what the future of this land should be,” she said.