The City of Carlsbad has set aside nearly 6,200 acres of open space as preserves for plants and wildlife through an environmental program called the Habitat Management Plan, which is marking its 15th year.
City staff recently released the Habitat Management Plan’s annual report for 2019, and held a public meeting Tuesday, March 3, to discuss the findings. Attending the meeting was City of Carlsbad Senior Program Manager Rosanne Humphrey, who oversees the plan and coordinates with the preserve managers, wildlife agencies and members of the public.
One of the most noteworthy achievements for the Habitat Management Plan in 2019 was the acquisition of the 61-acre Calavera Hills Village H property, located at Carlsbad Village Drive and Victoria Avenue in northeastern Carlsbad. The Village H property is an important area for wildlife movement. This property conserves 46 acres exclusively as preserve for plants and wildlife. About 13 acres will remain undeveloped open space and 2 acres are used for RV storage.
Once the city took ownership, city staff and contractors performed extensive tree trimming and vegetation maintenance, in addition to installing trail delineation fencing and trailhead signage and amenities. In August 2019, the city formally established a trail that ran through the property, opening it to public use.
Recently, the City Council directed Parks & Recreation staff to explore the possibility of installing an off leash dog area on the southern segment of the property. This concept will be a challenge because wildlife often avoid areas frequented by dogs and people.
“It’s possible both can use the site compatibly,” Humphrey said. “It will be our aim to find a balance between recreational use and nature preserve.”
Established in 2004, the Habitat Management Plan marked its 15th year in 2019 with 6,189 acres of natural land preserved as habitat for plants and wildlife, never to be developed. The goal is to preserve 6,478 acres of natural open pace after all development in the city has occurred. As of 2019, the city has achieved 96% of that target. The Habitat Management Plan improves Carlsbad residents’ quality of life by protecting sensitive plant and animal species while preserving natural open space.
One function of the Habitat Management Plan is to study wildlife movement to better understand how they travel between the different preserves. Development such as houses and roadways can block their movement, so it is important to have natural connections between the different preserves around and beyond the city. The city’s Habitat Management Plan staff has partnered with preserve managers and volunteers to track animal movement and study ways to improve these connections.
One of the best tools for tracking wildlife movement is motion-activated cameras, which show animals as they pass. The cameras record the type of animals, the quantity, the direction they are traveling and time of day. This information, combined with roadkill data, has proved valuable in helping to understand where animals encounter bottlenecks that force them out of safety and onto roadways, where they are exposed to traffic. Preserve managers use this information to establish new passageways to keep animals from harm’s way.
Another finding in the annual report is that the habitat that burned in the Poinsettia Fire of May 2014 is recovering. The fire burned 317 acres of open space, most of which was in Habitat Management Plan preserve. The city and preserve managers have been closely watching how the vegetation is recovering, and after five years most of the native plants are growing back. Plant species doing well include bush mallow, laurel sumac, poison oak and black sage. On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of the oak trees in the fire area west of El Camino Real did not recover. A long term project includes planting acorns to help revive that oak stand.
City officials worked for many years to complete 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 so they can 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. Other preserves are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Center for Natural Lands Management, San Diego Habitat Conservancy and Urban Corps San Diego Habitat Services.