If private property is purchased by tribes and then annexed into reservations, the protections called for in regional multiple species plans may be lost. EHL is commenting on two such proposals.

Technically called “fee to trust transfers,” tribal annexations must be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Once land is under tribal control, there is no obligation to assemble or maintain adopted habitat preserves, such as the San Diego MSCP or Riverside MSHCP. Although federal Endangered Species Act provisions still apply, these laws do not result in comprehensive and interconnected reserve systems.

As demonstrated by a transfer granted to the Pechanga tribe in 2003, representations as to environmental protection or future development made at the time of transfer do not bind the tribe and are effectively meaningless. Thus, if the federal government approves the transfers, accompanying conditions should ensure that the reserves are properly assembled. After all, the federal government has itself signed and committed to implement the habitat conservation plans.

In Riverside County, the Soboba tribe has proposed to annex 535 acres of land for a hotel and casino complex near the City of San Jacinto. While the complex itself does not pose problems, other portions of the acreage will be needed for reserve assembly. The endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat lives nearby. EHL has requested to meet with the tribe about our concerns and has submitted comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement that virtually ignores the MSHCP.

In San Diego County, near El Cajon, the Sycuan tribe has requested annexation of 1966 acres. A proposed housing development would cut off regional connectivity and impact habitat for the California gnatcatcher and arroyo toad. EHL has met with tribal representatives and coordinated biological comments with the Conservation Biology Institute. We hope to continue to work with the tribe.

In both cases, EHL has not taken a position on the transfers per se, but is committed to ensuring consistency with adopted habitat plans if the transfers are granted.