"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 mountainsides 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 and corresponding legislation has been hailed by local environmental activists for that very reason.
"I think it could help the area greatly from the standpoint that the piece-meal fashion that cities tend to have evolved in oftentimes will leave wilderness areas as island," said Richard Toyon, president of the Glendale-Crescenta Volunteers Organized In Conserving the Environment, or V.O.I.C.E., a nonprofit dedicated to open-space conservation.
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.