Over 800 acres added to permanent preserve

State and federal agencies to purchase land for San Diego Habitat Conservation Program

by Alice Martinez

ore than 840 acres of land located in southwestern San Diego County will be permanently preserved as a result of recent actions taken by State, Federal and County governments. Through cooperative efforts, the governments will acquire properties that are critical to State and local planning priorities in the Otay Mountain Region near the Mexican border. These purchases represent the most significant expenditure of State and Federal funds for habitat conservation in San Diego County to date.

The State's Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) has purchased 480 acres of key wildlife habitat near Otay Mountain for $2.9 million. In a separate but coordinated transaction, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has purchased a nearby 363-acre parcel along the U.S. border with Mexico for $1.09 million.

The two properties, which total 843 acres, are adjacent to more than 18,000 acres of land that is designated by BLM primarily for management of its biological resources (animals and plants). The properties are important additions to San Diego's Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) and the State's Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) pilot program. The acquisition of the two parcels will ensure inclusion of a large and ecologically significant block of natural habitat with the MSCP reserve system and will sustain a wildlife corridor between Otay Mountain and the Tijuana River.

Doug Wheeler, California Secretary for Resources remarked, "This purchase represents continuing proof of the State's commitment to the anticipatory, multi-species conservation that is at the heart of the MSCP and NCCP programs. This acquisition demonstrates the importance of cooperative partnerships to achieve ecosystem management and the conservation of sensitive habitats and species."

Ed Hastey, State Director for the BLM added, "Working in partnership with the State of this purchase resulted in more effective use of our Federal acquisition dollars and a much faster completion than would normally be possible."

"I applaud the efforts of the State and Federal agencies in making these purchases," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. "This acquisition is a good example of how valuable open space land should be acquired. It demonstrates that voluntary participation by private property owners continues to be a successful approach - the best approach!"

Supervisor Greg Cox added, "This collaborative effort on the part of the State and the Federal governments assures that these pristine, environmentally sensitive lands will be set aside for future generations."

According to Dr. Theodore Lambron, seller of the properties, "This sale to the State and Federal governments is, for us, an important first step and gesture of good faith that the parties wish to make San Diego's ambitious habitat planning effort work for property owners as well as it does for the environment. We look forward to the successful completion of the crucial second part of the process which is working with the wildlife agencies, the community, and the county to produce a workable plan for our remaining properties."

Michael Beck, San Diego Director of the Endangered Habitats League, commented, "The conservation value of these properties is extremely high. This is another very important contribution to the long-term viability of the south county reserve system."

The northern 480-acre parcel, acquired by WCB, a component of the Department of Fish and Game, is located on the northwest-facing slope of the San Ysidro Mountains, below Otay Mountain, and south of the eastern arm of Lower Otay Reservoir. Containing elevations from 700 to 1,400 feet, the property lies within the State-designated Otay Mountain Significant Natural Area, the Southern Otay Wilderness Study Area, and the Otay Mountain Cooperative Wildlife Management Area. The area supports a very diverse group of habitat types, including southern mixed chaparral, coastal sage scrub, southern interior cypress forest, riparian woodland, and oak woodland. Among the sensitive species present are the Tecate cypress, Cleveland golden star, and the San Diego sunflower.

The southern, 363-acre parcel, acquired by BLM, also lies within the Otay Mountain Significant Natural Area and is surrounded on three sides by existing BLM land and by the U.S. Mexico border on the south. Dominant habitat types include southern mixed and chamise chaparral, coastal sage scrub, scrub oak woodland, and Baccharis scrub. Wildlife present include mule deer, gray fox, red-tailed hawk and Pacific tree frog.

The MSCP has a total planning area of 580,000 acres in San Diego County, including a proposed 171,000-acre reserve system. MSCP is an important component of the NCCP pilot program across approximately 6,000 square miles in five counties of Southern California.

More information on the NCCP program, including the MSCP, is available on-line from the California Environmental Resources Evaluation Systems (CERES) at: http://ceres.ca.gov.