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Tracking measurable success on efforts across California to preserve and connect our Parks & Wildlife Corridors

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Feds Award $23 million to Buy and Protect San Diego Wildlife Habitat


Conservation Plan Awarded $23 Million Grant

A groundbreaking county-wide conservation program in San Diego has received $23 million in federal funding — the largest grant ever made through the Cooperative Endangered Species Fund. The Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) shifts focus from single species to ecosystems, fostering more effective, lasting conservation. The Nature Conservancy helped develop the plan and secure this funding, most of which will be directed to our priority projects.

$23M will help San Diego County conserve habitat

By: TOM PFINGSTEN - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- The county's efforts to protect endangered species such as the Arroyo toad and the California gnatcatcher got a boost Monday, when officials announced that it had been awarded $23 million from the federal government to buy open space across the county.

The money, awarded by the U.S. Department of Interior's Cooperative Endangered Species Fund, will purchase as many as 7,000 acres of sensitive habitat that the county's endangered species call home, said Maeve Hanley, a program manager for the county's Parks and Recreation Department.

While Hanley couldn't confirm specific properties that may be bought with the money, some of it will be used to add acres to the Ramona grasslands preserve near the Ramona Airport, she said.

"It is a very large windfall for this region," she said. "I believe the total funding award was $68 million (nationwide), and we got $23 million of it, so this is a huge achievement."

She said the land that will be purchased is outlined in the Multiple Species Conservation Plan process, in which the county identifies areas where sensitive habitat needs to be conserved.

The North County plan is not quite finished, but when it is, the Ramona grasslands will probably figure in the plan prominently, said Mike White of the Conservation Biology Institute in Encinitas.

"The Ramona grasslands is a great place," White said, adding that Monday's announcement of more land purchases at the preserve amounted to "an important contribution to regional conservation efforts" for endangered species.

"Getting a good chunk of habitat conserved in Ramona before development can consume it is really a good thing," he said.

The Nature Conservancy has already set aside nearly 2,000 acres of about 8,000 acres of grasslands at the Ramona site.

The recent push to protect gnatcatchers, toads, kangaroo rats and freshwater "fairy" shrimp is focused on setting aside pieces of land where native habitat is still intact, and as much of it as possible, White said.

"In some places, a couple of acres here and there can do some good, but in general, the push is to get some bigger blocks of habitat, which are hard to come by in coastal San Diego County," he said. "Places like Ramona are becoming the front lines of conservation, as development is pushing further and further east."

There are two primary methods of setting aside land that has been identified as a promising open space preserve, White said.

The first is known as "mitigation," when developers make up for environmental impacts caused by their projects by buying land and donating it to a preserve.

The second is when the county receives a chunk of money to buy land itself to add to one of its various preserves.

In this case, the sum the county has received is considerable, but still small compared with the approximately 200,000 total acres officials hope to protect, White said.

"Land is expensive down here, so big slugs of money like that are really what it takes to get conservation done on the ground," he said. "Increasingly, we're competing with development prices for open space, because the landowner has the option of either developing it themselves or selling it to someone who would."

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