San Diego County, California


Based on the 2010 Case Study of the Escondido Creek watershed done by the Conservation Biology Institute, TECC prioritized land acquisitions within the watershed that were critical to helping build out the regional conservation network and the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). While the primary focus of TECC’s acquisition work has been in two conservation nodes, first in Elfin Forest and more recently in Harmony Grove, TECC has preserved properties elsewhere in the watershed from  Rancho Santa Fe to Bottle Peak.

Coastal California Gnatcatcher, resident of the Escondido Creek Watershed.
Photo by Peter Knapp

The Elfin Forest area in the Escondido Creek watershed is the heart of what is known as the “gnatcatcher core” of San Diego’s North County MSCP, making land preservation in that area very high priority. The coastal California Gnatcatcher, a regular resident of the Escondido Creek watershed, is a California listed Species of Special Concern and a federally listed Threatened species. The gnatcatcher’s survival is threatened by the chronic reduction in habitat due to land development. One goal of the MSCP is to preserve core gnatcatcher populations in protected habitat areas connected by habitat linkages to help ensure survival of the both the gnatcatcher and other species that live in the same habitat suite, both threated and common, into the future.

TECC has worked closely with its conservation partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation, the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, San Diego Gas and Electric, the Endangered Habitats Conservancy, and the Conservation Fund, to acquire land in the gnatcatcher core. An additional goal of this effort is to make sure protected lands within the core are connected via wildlife habitat linkages to other important protected areas, including those within Harmony Grove and the San Dieguito watershed.

Between 2008 and 2015, TECC and its partners have been able to acquire most, but not all, of the remaining undeveloped large high priority conservation target properties in Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove. During 2015, TECC will work to finish the acquisition of target conservation properties from willing sellers, such as the proposed purchase of the second phase of University Heights property. From 2015 to 2020, TECC will work to acquire and preserve additional parcels in the gnatcatcher core within Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove, as well as to extend its focus on habitat preservation to other parts of the Escondido Creek watershed.

If you are a property owner and would like to donate or sell your land to the Escondido Creek Conservancy, or would like information about conservation transactions, please contact Ann Van Leer.

University Heights

Located in northern Harmony Grove and connected to the Elfin Forest Recreation Reserve via the former Family Stations property (an earlier TECC acquisition, now preserved under County of San Diego ownership), University Heights is a resource-rich 502-acre parcel which serves as a mixed sage and chaparral habitat buffer for the gnatcatcher core in Elfin Forest. Located north of the Questhaven Retreat and east of the City of San Marcos, the property was previously designated for the construction of over 1,000 homes. Following a long campaign by TECC supporters to secure private and public funding to preserve the University Heights property, Phase 1 of the important conservation transaction closed escrow at the end of 2014. San Diego County Parks and Recreation is now the owner of the eastern half of the property, totaling approximately 244 acres.  TECC is still working to secure funding for the western portion of the property and hopes to place it in conservation ownership within the next 12-24 months.