After years of fits and starts, the County Board of Supervisors selected the best and most comprehensive path forward for the North County Multiple Species Conservation Program, or NC MSCP.

For over 15 years, San Diego County worked on a habitat plan to complement the South County MSCP. These plans assemble a comprehensive reserve system and streamline permitting for compatible development and infrastructure through a “programmatic” environmental impact report. Endangered species are “covered” by the plan, saving time and money on individual project permitting. While flawed, the South County plan has nevertheless produced better biological outcomes than business as usual, and has led to many fine land acquisitions through agency partnerships.

However, many obstacles have held up the NC MSCP, mainly disagreements between the County and state and federal wildlife agencies over land management and financial responsibilities. In a positive move, the County Department of Planning and Development Services commissioned a study of plan options and obstacles by a consulting firm with experience in these plans.

The study found by far the most benefits for conservation and development alike in a full-scale effort, that is, a Habitat Conservation Plan under federal law and a Natural Communities Conservation Plan under California law. Partial efforts had fewer benefits but similar costs. It is expected that addressing agricultural operations, which is a large industry in the region, will be a top focus. The report also proposed a promising framework for resolving the existing disputes. 

In its comments, EHL took issue with problematic aspects of the study recommendations. We do not support leaving the Engelmann oak, golden eagle, and mountain lion off of the list of species formally "covered" by the plan, or with excluding the single most important property, the 20,000-acre Ranch Guejito, due to landowner opposition. On the other hand, we welcomed a suggestion to expand the boundary to include large landholdings in Lake Henshaw and Warner Springs Ranch.

EHL testified in support of the comprehensive approach, which was unanimously adopted by the Board of Supervisors on October 28, 2020. This breaks a decade-long logjam. While we are concerned over Board direction to accommodate housing development along the Interstate-15 corridor, we are overall encouraged by the County’s fresh approach and will continue to participate as a stakeholder.