North County Plan - Overview

Purpose

This Plan is being created as a practical, science-based conservation approach to protect and contribute to the recovery of sensitive species within the Planning Area, while providing for continued economic growth and prosperity for land owners, agricultural operators, businesses, and residents.

The Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is a strong commitment to the environment; it balances habitat conservation with the County's responsibility to meet housing, recreation and economic development needs. The North County Plan is the second of three parts of the County's MSCP.

Background

The impetus for the plan is rooted in two unique aspects of San Diego County - high biological diversity and rapid urban growth. San Diego County has more rare, threatened, and endangered species than any comparable land area in the continental U.S. On a national and global scale, the region has been identified as a major "hotspot" for biodiversity and species endangerment in scientific journals. San Diego County is also one of the most rapidly growing regions of the country.

The traditional project-by-project mitigation process for resolving conflicts between species preservation and impacts of development is costly, cumbersome and, moreover, results in the ineffective conservation of isolated habitat fragments. The approach of the MSCP is based on the tenets of biological preserve design and guides project-specific mitigation to those areas most critical to maintenance of ecosystem function and species viability.

This Plan will serve as a multiple species Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as a Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) under the California NCCP Act. The Plan has been submitted to the Wildlife Agencies in support of applications for permits and authorizations for incidental take of listed, threatened, or endangered species or other species of concern. The County will be issued an incidental take permit for species that are found to be covered by implementation of the plan. The County, as the take authorization holder, may share the benefits of the authorization by using it to permit public or private projects, referred to as third party beneficiaries, that comply with the plan.

Plan Area Description

The Plan area encompasses 294,849 acres in and around the unincorporated communities of Bonsall, De Luz, Fallbrook, Harmony Grove, Rancho Santa Fe, Lilac, Pala, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, Ramona, Rincon Springs, Twin Oaks Valley, and Valley Center. The Plan area is focused on unincorporated areas within the County's land use jurisdiction. The Plan area excludes tribal lands, U.S. Forest Service lands, and most water district lands. Of the 294,849-acre Plan area, approximately 17% is urbanized and 27% is in agriculture (excluding grazing lands). The remaining 56% of the Plan area consists of natural lands.

Most of the inland areas are made up of chaparral or oak woodland vegetation. Coastal areas contain more sensitive habitats, such as coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral. There are several large river systems running east-west that contain extensive riparian woodlands and forests, such as the San Luis Rey River, Santa Margarita River, and Escondido Creek.

Conservation Planning

Data for the North County Plan was obtained from a regional vegetation map and several species databases. The County convened a group of independent science advisors to oversee the planning process and recommend sound conservation biology planning principles. The current draft preserve network is shown on the North County Plan Map page. A standard of no net loss of wetland functions and values is acknowledged in this Plan.

There are also several specific environmental issues that were addressed during conservation planning. One is the need to expand State Route 76 west of Interstate 15 and along the San Luis Rey River. A second issue is the conservation of vernal pools in Ramona. The last issue is the extensive agricultural industry in north San Diego County and the potential role of agricultural lands in wildlife conservation.

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