Conservancy to preserve more than 100 acres near Lake Hodges

A 103-acre parcel north of Lake Hodges purchased by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy
The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy is purchasing a 103-acre parcel north of Lake Hodges to preserve open space and native habitat.
(Photo courtesy of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy)

The new property will expand wildlife corridors and native habitat


The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy is purchasing a 103-acre parcel north of Lake Hodges that will preserve open space and native habitat.

The land was originally part of the El Cielo residential development, and was slated for housing construction, said Trish Boaz, executive director for the conservancy. The organization, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Wildlife Conservation Board, will buy the land from the owners for $2,266,000, with escrow expected to close by the end of this month, she said. The parcel will be part of the open space protected through the San Diego County Multiple Species Conservation Program.

“So we will be preserving this open space instead of development coming in,” Boaz said. “It is a vital wildlife corridor, and it links open space preserves together. We have mule deer, coyotes, a number of threatened plants.”

Preserving the land will help sequester carbon, improve water quality in the watershed, conserve biodiversity and protect pollinator habitat, the conservancy said. The property includes Southern Mixed Chaparral and Diegan Coastal Sage Scrub. It is identified as habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher, raptors, and migratory birds, and initial surveys found one species of special concern, the Rufous-crowned sparrow. Once the purchase closes, the conservancy will do a deeper dive into the biological resources at the site.

“It’s in beautiful shape, but what we will do now is go on site and conduct biological surveys, see what we have out there,” Boaz said. “And once we come up with resources we have on the property, we can develop a management and monitoring plan.”

They plan to team up with Palomar Audubon, the California Native Plants Society San Diego Chapter, and the San Diego Tracking Team, which identifies wildlife based on tracks and scat, in order to inventory resources at the site. They will also involve citizen scientists to help explore and catalogue its flora and fauna.

The conservancy must contribute $226,600, or 10 percent of the cost of the property, to the purchase. It received an initial private donation of $50,000, and is fundraising now to cover the remainder of its share, Boaz said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will contribute $1,586,200 from the Federal Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund Grant Program and the Wildlife Conservation Board is contributing $453,200 from Proposition 68, a 2018 state ballot measure that voters approved to pay for parks, environment and water. They will also purchase an adjacent 14-acre parcel for $500,000 in March, bringing the newly preserved area to 117 acres.

— Deborah Sullivan Brennan is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune