North County Plan- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP)?
The Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is a long-term, regional habitat conservation program that protects vulnerable species and their habitats while providing economic growth opportunities in the County of San Diego (County). Under this program, large blocks of interconnected habitat will be conserved through acquisition of land by private and public entities and mitigation from development.
A key part of the MSCP is the Covered Species List that identifies key species and habitats to conserve. The Covered Species List includes species listed as threatened or endangered under the Federal and California Endangered Species Acts as well as species that may become listed within the 50-year term of the MSCP. The MSCP meets regulations in accordance with the Federal and California Endangered Species Acts as a joint Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and a Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP). The purpose of the MSCP is to conserve Covered Species’ habitats while addressing potential impacts from economic growth.
For these potential impacts, projects are required by the Endangered Species Acts to obtain an incidental take permit to mitigate for potential impacts to listed species’ habitat. As a joint HCP/NCCP, the MSCP provides the basis for the County to receive an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), collectively referred to as the Wildlife Agencies. The incidental take permit the County receives through the MSCP can be extended to future development projects that comply with the MSCP so that those projects do not have to secure their own separate incidental take permits from the Wildlife Agencies. Through this permitting mechanism, the MSCP helps streamline permitting, provide regional conservation of natural habitats, and facilitate economic growth in San Diego County.
- What area does the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) cover?
The County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is comprised of three separate planning areas covering unincorporated regions of San Diego in the South County, North County, and East County. The MSCP Plans associated with each of the planning areas are referred to as the County Subarea Plan (South County), North County Plan, and East County Plan, respectively.
In October 1997, the County Board of Supervisors approved the MSCP County Subarea Plan for the southern portion of the County.
The North County Plan is currently being prepared for the unincorporated portions of northern San Diego County.
Preparation of the East County Plan is pending the completion and Board of Supervisors’ approval of the North County Plan.
- What is the North County Plan and how does it differ from the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP)?
The North County Plan is the second of three Plans under the County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). The North County Plan will extend the MSCP’s scope into the northwestern areas of the unincorporated County to balance the conservation of species’ habitats with economic growth.
The North County Plan will include a Covered Species List with species within the North County Plan Area listed as threatened or endangered under the Federal and California Endangered Species Acts as well as vulnerable species that may become listed within the 50-year term of the North County Plan.
The North County Plan establishes a process for assembling a Preserve that is necessary to protect species on the Covered Species List and the seven major vegetation communities in the North County Plan Area. The Preserve will be comprised of an interconnected system of large blocks of habitat to allow for species to move among diverse vegetation communities and a range of elevations.
Main elements of the North County Plan include definitions and parameters for the Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA), Covered Species, the Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO), and the Framework Resource Management Plan (FRMP).
- What areas are covered by the North County Plan?
The North County Plan is proposed to cover the northwestern portion of the unincorporated areas of the County. It includes the communities of Bonsall, De Luz, Fallbrook, Harmony Grove, Lilac, Pala, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, Ramona, Rincon Springs, Twin Oaks Valley, and Valley Center. A map of the North County Plan area can be found on the North County Plan Map page.
- What is a Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA)?
The Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA) for the North County Plan will be developed based on a series of models that determine the best area to assemble the Preserve. The PAMA will encompass the area with highest biological value in the North County Plan Area, where the Covered Species and their habitats are most likely to be found.
The North County Plan will encourage development outside of the PAMA and encourage preservation within the PAMA through varying mitigation ratios. This will be achieved through lower mitigation ratios outside of the PAMA and higher mitigation ratios within the PAMA.
Mitigation lessens the significance of a project's impact on the environment. Examples include preserving habitat by open space easement, purchasing “mitigation credits” in a mitigation bank, or restoring natural areas. Existing state and federal regulations require reduction of impacts through avoidance, minimization and mitigation of impacts.
- What is a Covered Species?
Covered Species that will be included in the North County Plan are species that are either currently listed as threatened or endangered under the California or Federal Endangered Species Acts or may become listed during the 50-year term of the North County Plan.
These species will be “covered” by the County’s incidental take Permit. This means projects that comply with the North County Plan will not need to receive separate incidental take permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Wildlife Agencies) for potential impacts to Covered Species. Projects will need to demonstrate conformance with the North County Plan by complying with the Biological Mitigation Ordinance.
The current draft list of species slated for inclusion on the North County Plan’s Covered Species List include:
Covered Species List – August 2017
Harbison's dun skipper
Euphyes vestris harbisoni
Hermes copper butterfly
Quino checkerspot butterfly
Euphydryas editha quino
Riverside fairy shrimp
San Diego fairy shrimp
Amphibians and Reptiles
Anaxyrus californicus (Bufo californicus)
Western spadefoot toad
Spea (Scaphiopus) hammondii
Southwestern pond turtle
Clemmys marmorata pallida
Coast horned lizard
Coastal cactus wren
Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus sandiegensis
Coastal California gnatcatcher
Aquila chrysaetos canadensis
Least Bell's vireo
Vireo bellii pusillus
Southwestern willow flycatcher
Empidonax traillii extimus
Western Burrowing owl
Athene cunicularia hypugaea
Western yellow-billed cuckoo
Coccyzus americanus occidentalis
Stephens’ kangaroo rat
Townsend’s big-eared bat
Corynorhinus townsendii pallescens
Del Mar manzanita
Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia
San Diego ambrosia
San Diego button-celery
Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii
San Diego thornmint
- What is a Watch List Species?
In addition to the draft list of 29 Covered Species, the North County Plan will include a Watch List with approximately 14 species. Watch List species are species that are not currently listed as threatened or endangered under the California or Federal Endangered Species Acts. These species are being “watched” because they are vulnerable and could be listed during the 50-year term of the North County Plan. Several of the Watch List species may also serve as indicator species to help determine whether habitat health and connectivity are being maintained within the North County Plan Area.
The intent of the Watch List is to provide a mechanism to streamline the amendment process to cover additional species under the North County Plan in the event of a future federal or state listing. The North County Plan will include a process to move species from the Watch List to the Covered Species List, allowing coverage for any newly listed species under the North County Plan.
The current draft list of species slated to be included on the Watch List include:
Watch List – August 2017
Amphibians and Reptiles
Coast range newt
Red diamond rattlesnake
Ammodramus savannarum perpallidus
Circus cyaneus hudsonius
Rufous crowned sparrow
Aimophila ruficeps canascens
San Diego black-tailed jack rabbit
Lepus californicus bennettii
Atriplex parishii var. parishii
- Which vegetation communities are included in the North County Plan?
When plant species grow together in a predictable pattern, the assembly of plant species is referred to as a vegetation community. The North County Plan Area features several types of natural vegetation communities, which are grouped into seven main categories, including:
· Grassland, Meadows and Seep
· Vernal Pool
· Bog and Marsh
· Riparian and Bottomland Habitat
· Upland Woodland and Forest
Conservation of these vegetation communities will also conserve and protect Covered Species, Watch List Species and other species in the North County Plan Area by providing suitable habitat and promoting biodiversity.
- What happens if new species are listed after the North County Plan is approved?
Future listing of species could result in the need to amend the North County Plan to add newly listed species to the North County Plan’s Covered Species List. The North County Plan anticipates future species listing with a Watch List that includes species that are vulnerable and could be listed during the 50-year term of the North County Plan. The North County Plan will include a process to streamline the amendment process to move species from the Watch List to the Covered Species List.
Future listings of species are unlikely to require additional acquisition of land because the proposed Preserve includes the majority of ecologically viable areas of natural habitat within the North County Plan Area.
- What is the Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO)? When does it apply?
The Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) is the primary implementing ordinance for the MSCP. The adopted County Subarea Plan (South County)’s BMO is used for implementation within the South County Subarea.
In general, the BMO will provide preserve design criteria, including avoidance, minimization, and mitigation requirements for development within the North County Plan Area to encourage conservation of vegetation communities within the PAMA.
For projects with potential to impact sensitive habitats, project compliance with the BMO will allow the County to extend its incidental take permit to the project to proceed without requiring that project applicants receive separate incidental take permits from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
- What is a Framework Resource Management Plan (FRMP)?
The Framework Resource Management Plan (FRMP) is an implementing document of the North County Plan that will provide guidelines for the preparation of Resource Management Plans (RMP). When a development project proposes open space outside of a formal mitigation bank, offsite open space, or onsite open space totaling 50 acres or more, a RMP is required. Both private entities and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) manage RMPs to ensure that the viability and value of the open space is maintained in perpetuity. The RMPs include specific site-level requirements for individual preserves, while the FRMP will provide framework-level guidance to entities preparing individual RMPs.
The FRMP will provide guidelines on preserve-level stewardship, a framework for monitoring and management of natural vegetation communities, a framework for monitoring and management of species covered under the North County Plan, trail siting criteria, and guidance for inclusion of other public access facilities, such as staging areas and other public uses.
- How will being in the MSCP affect the processing of my subdivision/permit?
The time and costs involved with the County’s environmental review of a project are made more efficient by the MSCP. Rather than each individual project undergoing review with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and/or California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to receive incidental take permits, the MSCP allows projects to receive coverage under the County’s incidental take permit by demonstrating compliance with the North County Biological Mitigation Ordinance. While a project will still need to assess and mitigate for its direct impacts, the MSCP allows for programmatic level mitigation for indirect and cumulative impacts.
A number of factors may affect development, including critical habitat designations, threatened and endangered species presence, and other environmental and planning issues. A project may require redesign depending on its location within the North County Plan Area, timing of proposed development approval, and the biological resources present on the site. Depending on the project’s location, extent, and activity, mitigation may be required for any impacts the project might have on sensitive resources.
- Will the government condemn my land for the MSCP?
The County only purchases lands from willing sellers. State and federal agencies involved in land acquisition have stated similar restrictions on condemnation. The Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) will include exceptions that indicate the BMO cannot be applied to a project if the BMO provisions would result in an unlawful taking of property. This exception ensures that land will not be condemned through application of MSCP requirements.
- Will I still be able to develop my land if it is included within the Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA)?
Yes, lands within the Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA) can be developed. While development is not restricted within the PAMA, development outside of the PAMA will have lower mitigation ratios and development within the PAMA will have higher mitigation ratios.
Subdivisions of land, or other discretionary actions, will require environmental review and will need to conform to the preset guidelines and criteria in the North County Plan and associated implementation tools such as the Biological Mitigation Ordinance and Framework Resource Management Plan.
- Can I clear vegetation for fire safety within the MSCP – North County Plan Area?
Yes. Parcels that are 10 acres and under in size and zoned for single family residential use within the existing MSCP (the South County Plan), may clear up to 5 acres in size outside the PAMA without a permit. Parcels that are 10 acres and under in size and zoned for single family residential use but are located within the PAMA for the existing MSCP may clear up to 2 acres without a permit. These or similar provisions for clearing will be applied to land within the North County Plan Area once the North County Plan is finalized and adopted.
Clearing in excess of the aforementioned limits is allowed with an approved Administrative Brushing and Clearing Permit from the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS). Please contact the PDS Zoning Information Counter, at (858) 565-5981, to determine whether your property is within MSCP and/or the PAMA designation or to obtain information on the Administrative Brushing and Clearing Permit.
- Will there be opportunity for more public input before the North County Plan is adopted?
Yes. There are still many opportunities for public input on the Plan.
A Joint Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) will be prepared and sent out for public review and comment. After further public review, the Plan will be considered at public hearings by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
In Spring 2017, several public meetings were held as part of public outreach. Materials and records from these meetings can be found on the North County Plan – Public Outreach page.
Any questions can be directed to MSCP@sdcounty.ca.gov