South County Plan

The San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) Plan for the southwestern portion of San Diego County was approved in 1998 and covers 85 species. The City of San Diego, portions of the unincorporated County, and ten additional city jurisdictions make up the San Diego MSCP Plan Area. The County Subarea Plan (South County Plan) was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October 1997. 

The goal of the South County Plan is to acquire or permanently protect 98,379 acres in the unincorporated area. Since 1998, thousands of acres of land have been added to the MSCP by local, State, and Federal agencies.  

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MSCP Annual Reports go before the Board of Supervisors every spring. Click above to see the most recent annual report and subscribe below to receive hearing updates as they become available.



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  • 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 County Subarea Plan (South County Plan) 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 Plan), North County Plan, and East County Plan, respectively.

    On October 22, 1997, the County Board of Supervisors approved the South County Plan. The South County Plan covers 252,132 acres of land that is served by the City of San Diego Metro Wastewater sewer system, which extends from the southern portion of Ramona and the San Diequito River, east to Poway, Lakeside and Alpine, and south to the border with Mexico.

  • If my land is included within the MSCP Plan Area, will I be still able to develop it?

    MSCP plans do not place a moratorium on development; however, all projects must be in conformance with the MSCP plan. How a project conforms varies depending on the type of development proposed. Some projects meet certain exemption criteria and do not require any modification, while others require revisions and mitigation in order for the project to conform. County staff will review each project and determine what is necessary for conformance with the MSCP plan.

  • Will the government condemn my land for the MSCP?

    No land will be condemned to achieve the goals of the MSCP. The County will only purchase land from willing sellers. Federal and state agencies involved with land acquisition have stated similar restrictions on condemnation.

  • Can I sell my land to the MSCP?

    The County has an obligation to acquire land for preserve within areas covered by MSCP plans. Since the inception of the MSCP, the County has negotiated and purchased several properties from willing sellers. The County will consider purchasing land that meets certain criteria, including whether the property is important in completing the planned preserve system for the region. If you are interested in potentially selling land to the County, contact the Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services at (858) 694-2291.

  • What is a Covered Species?

    A key component of the South County Plan is its Covered Species list, which identifies 85 species in the Subarea that are either currently listed as threatened or endangered under the California or Federal Endangered Species Acts or may become listed during the term of the MSCP Plan. These species are “covered” by the County’s incidental take permit, meaning that projects that demonstrate conformance with the Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) will not need to obtain separate permits from the Wildlife Agencies for potential species impacts.

  • What is the Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) and how is it related to the MSCP?

    The Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) is the primary implementing ordinance for the South County Plan. The BMO outlines the sensitive resources of concern and sets forth the criteria that all private and public projects must follow. The BMO includes specific project design criteria that must be incorporated into each project, such as protecting wildlife movement corridors and avoiding resources considered to be significant. The BMO also limits the amount of impacts that may occur to certain sensitive, rare, or endangered species and sets the minimum amount of mitigation that must be provided.

  • What is a Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA)?

    The Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA) for the South County Plan was developed based on a series of models that determine the best area to assemble the Preserve. The PAMA encompasses the area with highest biological value in the South County Plan Area, where the Covered Species and their habitats are most likely to be found.

    The South County Plan encourages development outside of the PAMA and encourages preservation within the PAMA through varying mitigation ratios. While development is not restricted within the PAMA, development outside of the PAMA has lower mitigation ratios and development within the PAMA has higher mitigation ratios. 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 mitigation?

    Mitigation is a provision that helps lessen the severity of a project's impact on the environment. Mitigation measures are usually required as conditions of approval that must be satisfied during the course of the project. The mitigation that is required for each project varies depending on potential impacts. Some examples of mitigation for impacts to biological resources include preserving habitat in an open space easement. Mitigation may also include purchasing habitat credit in a "mitigation bank," such as a preserve owned and managed by a conservancy group. For land not identified as high habitat value, it may be more appropriate for mitigation to occur offsite. The BMO defines the minimum mitigation required for projects within a MSCP plan area.

  • Do MSCP plans allow developers to avoid the federal and state endangered species acts?

    While developers do benefit from the permit streamlining that MSCP plans provide, the regional preservation of important biological resources is the main goal of the program. MSCP plans are created to provide protection for sensitive plant and animal species, as well as sensitive habitat types. Through implementation of MSCP plans, biological resources are protected, guidelines are provided for development, and programs for land acquisition are established. MSCP plans and the BMO set forth specific preserve design considerations, limitations to impacts, and minimum mitigation requirements for all development projects. The County has a section 10(a) permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that allows Incidental Take of threatened and/or endangered species that are covered by MSCP plans. Take Authority under the County's 10(a) permit may be transferred to individual projects, providing third-party beneficiary status. This third-party beneficiary status is transferred after specific findings are made on issues such as preserve design, avoidance of sensitive resources, and preservation of wildlife movement corridors. The County's granting of third-party beneficiary status means that developers do not need to obtain individual permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or California Department of Fish & Wildlife for species covered under MSCP plans, which can substantially reduce the time and cost for a project.

  • How will being in an MSCP area affect the processing of my subdivision or 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 BMO. 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.

    In addition, there are already a number of factors that may affect development, including critical habitat designations and listings of species as rare, threatened, and endangered. Your project may require revisions depending on its location within the MSCP plan area and biological resources present. You may also be required to mitigate for impacts your project might have on sensitive resources. However, projects outside of a MSCP plan area are subject to similar constraints due to CEQA requirements. Therefore, review of the project will not be significantly different due to the MSCP.

  • Can I clear vegetation for fire safety within the MSCP?

    County Fire Marshals require the clearing of hazardous vegetation close to houses and buildings in the unincorporated area. However, concerns are raised by citizens as to whether these activities would be in violation of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The County Fire Chief's Association and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 1997. This MOU exempts the incidental take of endangered species by landowners complying with a Fire Marshal's Order, which is generally 100 feet of clearing from a residential structure.

    Clearing in areas beyond that required by the Fire Marshal's Order may require permits issued by federal, state, and/or County of San Diego authorities. For more information, please contact the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS), Zoning Information Counter, at (858) 565-5981.