The City of Carlsbad has set aside nearly 6,000 acres of open space as preserves for plants and animals through an environmental program called the Habitat Management Plan, according to the plan’s draft annual report.
City staff recently released the Habitat Management Plan’s report for 2014-15 and will hold a meeting to discuss its findings at 1 p.m. on March 1 at the City of Carlsbad Faraday Center, 1635 Faraday Ave.
Established in 2004, the Habitat Management Plan completed its 11th year in 2015 with 5,970 acres of natural lands preserved for plants and animals. The city’s goal is to set aside 6,478 acres of natural open space when all development has occurred, and the city has surpassed 92 percent of that target acreage so far. The plan improves Carlsbad residents’ quality of life by protecting sensitive plant and animal species, while preserving natural open space.
Last year, the city and preserve managers completed a two-year study that used cameras to observe the movement of wildlife through and between the preserves, and outside the city to other natural lands. The cameras were made possible by a Local Assistance Grant from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. The city and preserve managers wanted to see how animals pass through constricted areas, or “pinch points,” in corridors that connect different parts of the preserve, with the aim of improving these linkages. There are about 100 potential pinch points within the city.
“The study showed widespread distribution of bobcat and coyote throughout the city,” said City of Carlsbad Senior Planner Mike Grim, who manages the city’s Habitat Management Plan. “It also showed deer in parts of the city where we didn’t expect to see them.”
Carlsbad’s Habitat Management Plan is part of a wider Multiple Habitat Conservation Program that also includes Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Vista. The wildlife movement study can also be used to assist regional studies to see how easily animals cross between Carlsbad and these neighboring cities.
“We want animals to be able to go east-west, from Lake Hodges to the lagoons,” Grim said. “Movement to Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Batiquitos Lagoon is good. And they can travel inside the city easily, generally speaking.”
The cameras photographed a bobcat with an ear tag that had apparently traveled to Carlsbad from either Bonsall or Rancho Peñasquitos, showing that it is possible for animals to traverse such long distances. Grim said that while such discoveries are encouraging, the city wants to optimize such connections.
The study recommended several ways to do that, most commonly by clearing vegetation at the entrances and approaches to pinch points. Preserve managers are acting on those recommendations at several locations.
The report found that the city’s natural preserves are recovering from the 2014 Poinsettia Fire, which burned 317 acres of open space, 295 acres of which were either existing or future Habitat Management Plan preserve. The canyons in central Carlsbad had not burned in 50 to 100 years, and the fire affected many different vegetation types and sensitive species.
The city continued to work last year with open space property owners affected by the Poinsettia Fire, focusing on treating for invasive species, limiting access to the burn area to aid recovery and controlling erosion. Habitats have shown early signs of recovery, with species resprouting and providing seedlings. The city and preserve managers have implemented the Carlsbad HMP Post‐Fire Monitoring Protocol, to watch the area for at least another four years to follow how the habitat naturally rebounds from the fire.
City officials worked for almost 15 years to perfect the Habitat Management Plan, and it was approved by state and federal environmental agencies in 2004. Carlsbad is the only city in North San Diego County with an approved Habitat Management Plan. The Habitat Management Plan serves a dual purpose of preserving land for environmentally sensitive species while providing clear guidelines to developers who wish to build in Carlsbad. Developers agree to set aside land for preservation and endow the preserves to be managed and monitored in perpetuity. In this way natural open space is preserved without taxpayers paying to buy the land.
The city-owned, natural open space preserves are managed by the Center for Natural Land Management, a nonprofit organization that specializes in overseeing natural open spaces. The Fallbrook-based center also manages privately owned preserves in Carlsbad. Habitat Restorations Sciences, Helix Environmental, San Diego Habitat Conservancy and San Diego Urban Corps Habitat Services also manage some private preserves.