Saving San Diego’s Open Space
Elfin Hill In San Diego. Photo by Lily Engle/The Conservation Fund
San Diego is known for its miles of coastline and beautiful beaches. But there is more to this coastal ecosystem than just sand and surf: other landscapes, such as coastal sage brush and forest habitat, also are critical to maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem.
But population growth and the increasing demand for housing mean that land in the San Diego area is becoming scarce. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has put together a smart growth development plan, which includes more residential construction and expansion of public transportation. However, SANDAG and other organizations also are working to conserve some areas from development.
The Fund was asked to assist with local conservation efforts to protect lands within the Elfin Forest area that were under threat of residential development. The result? We protected nearly 400 acres of critical coastal sage scrub habitat that also supports a live oak forest and a freshwater marsh. Conservation of this land ensures access to recreational areas and the continued preservation of habitat essential to many vulnerable or threatened species. All told, the Fund has protected more than 8,400 acres countywide.
Land Conservation In San Diego County: Del Dios Highlands County Preserve
In 2010, we helped conserve 100 acres of land in Elfin Forest, resulting in the expansion of the nearly 800-acre Del Dios Highlands County Preserve. The property is close to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve and includes sections of existing reserve trails. We were able to conserve the land known as Cielo Azul, by purchasing it from the landowner, then transferring it to San Diego County once it had obtained funding.
The land, which provides panoramic views over the Escondido Creek watershed, from the city of Escondido to the Pacific Ocean, is known for extremely high levels of species diversity. The parcel is located within the California Coastal Sage and Chaparral ecoregion and is part of the last cohesive coastal sage habitat west of Interstate 15 in San Diego County. A number of threatened species make their home in this ecosystem of coastal sage scrub, including the California gnatcatcher and the San Diego horned lizard.
Saving Land From Development In San Diego County
In 2009, we teamed with SANDAG and San Diego County to preserve Sage Hill, 234 pristine acres of sensitive habitat in the Elfin Forest area that had been slated for the development of 70 estate homes. “It is very rare to find such a large undeveloped parcel of such high-quality habitat in the northern San Diego County area,” said Scott Ferguson, the Fund’s Southern California director.
The property is included in the county’s proposed North County Multiple Species Conservation Program. The San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department will manage the land permanently as open space. “This partnership achieves all our goals,” SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said. “We preserve open space for future generations, mitigate for highway and local road construction, and expand the county’s park system for use by the public.”