Twenty-three Years of Preserving Species and Habitats in South County
One of the tools that the County of San Diego uses to preserve the region’s unique, native habitats and wildlife biodiversity for future generations is the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). Finalized in 1998, the MSCP protects and connects the most valuable biological habitats in San Diego County, while allowing development to occur in less sensitive areas.
The County works with many partners to make sure this incredible program is successful, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, local governments, local non-profits, and other land managers in the region.
Conserving Habitats in South County
The MSCP is divided into Subarea Plans, with the County’s South County MSCP Subarea Plan (Subarea Plan) covering the unincorporated areas in the southern portion of the county. The goal of the Subarea Plan is to create a 98,379-acre Preserve that supports 85 covered plant and animal species. As of the end of December 2020, the Subarea Plan Preserve totaled 79,853 acres or 81% of the Preserve goal! Almost 13,200 acres of this Preserve are Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) open space lands, with more added every year. The County has committed to buying at least 500 acres of San Diego’s open space land every year. Learn more about that commitment, one of the goals of the 2018 Climate Action Plan, here. Direct conservation of habitat and species through the purchase of open space lands, as well as monitoring and management activities, help protect plant and wildlife species. Habitat restoration or enhancement projects can also expand where species can live and thrive.
23 Years of Success
Over the last 23 years of the MSCP, there have been many exciting successes. Since the MSCP was signed, 19 MSCP covered species that had not been previously found on DPR open space lands have been conserved through acquisitions. For example, Encinitas baccharis, a small shrub on the California endangered plant species list, can be found at Del Dios Highlands Preserve in Escondido, which was acquired in pieces between 2002 and 2010. This brings the total of MSCP covered species found on DPR open space land up to 46 species, including 24 plant, 16 bird, two reptile, two invertebrate, and two mammal species. At the Lakeside Linkage Preserve, habitat restoration projects have been conducted to restore habitat for the coastal cactus wren and Hermes copper butterfly. Since the first project was completed, coastal cactus wren have been found in the restored habitat! In 2020, six grant funded habitat restoration projects were worked on and included three projects in the Tijuana River Valley, one at Lakeside Linkage Preserve, one at Sycamore Canyon and Goodan Ranch Preserve, and one at Ramona Grasslands Preserve. DPR is also committed to planting three trees for every tree that is dead or dying and, in 2020, over 4,500 trees were planted on DPR properties.
Environmental education is a critical part of connecting San Diego County residents and visitors with nature. DPR hosts an average of 1,500 environmental education programs each year, which serve over 17,000 youth at 28 parks and preserves. On average, more than 6,500 young hikers participate in TRACK Trails adventures per year, which educate kids about nature, and 2020 saw a 230% increase in participation. DPR’s environmental education programs were impacted by COVID-19, however DPR expanded outreach virtually and included Hawktober videos, the Virtual Recreation Center, and virtual Ranger-led hikes that brought the outside inside. Online educational outreach programs will continue to expand and have become a regular part of the MSCP.
Many successes have been accomplished in the first 23 years of the 50-year MSCP and the County looks forward to continuing to conserve sensitive habitats and species while helping them thrive.