But population growth and the increasing demand for housing means 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. 

Our Role

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’ve protected more than 1,200 acres of the largest and highest quality coastal sage scrub habitat in San Diego County. Conservation of this land ensures access to recreational areas and the continued preservation of habitat essential to many vulnerable and endangered species.

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. The San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department will manage the land permanently as open space.

The following year 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.

Our most recent effort involves the 255-acre Rancho Cielo property, situated near several other wilderness preserves. The property had been zoned for the development of 79 homes, which would have fragmented surrounding public lands and wildlife corridors. We had the ability to act fast to meet the seller’s time frame and take the property off the market while working with a multitude of partners to secure a permanent conservation outcome. Using funds from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we transferred the property to The Escondido Creek Conservancy, who will manage the property in perpetuity.

Why It Matters

This coastal sage scrub ecosystem provides a home for a number of species, including the San Diego horned lizard and the endangered California gnatcatcher, and is emerging as one of the most important habitat conservation areas in San Diego, helping to meet the goals of the county’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). Together these protected lands create a large preserve in an area that has increasingly fewer public wilderness parks, due to rapid development and urbanization. The excellent recreational opportunities and stunning vistas spanning all the way to the ocean on a clear day are sure to draw visitors and enhance the county’s tourism economy.