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Illegal Trail Cuts Through Gnatcatcher Habitat

On January 22nd, our Land Conservation Manager, Hannah Walchak, made an unsettling discovery during a regular site visit on one of our north county reserves. An illegal trail had been created through over a mile of essential wildlife habitat. This reserve is home to a diverse group of plant communities including, oak woodlands, southern mixed chaparral, and coastal sage scrub. Many different species of wildlife thrive in this protected area, one of which is the federally threatened, California Gnatcatcher. New housing and city developments have already paved over much of their preferred coastal sage scrub habitat which is why the Conservancy works so diligently to protect open spaces.

When trails are constructed or improved on our properties they are planned to have the least environmental impact and that impact is mitigated to minimize the impacts to wildlife. In this case, no such planning occurred and the slope of the trail was such that it would have become an ongoing source of erosion and disturbance to critically important wildlife. Shovels, picks, and clippers were found on site as were multiple bicycle tracks. While this trail could have been built in a week, the damage caused by this trail can take decades to recover. We will pursue those who vandalize or otherwise misuse our lands to the fullest extent of the law. Restoration efforts have already begun but it will require multiple days and volunteers to help mitigate the damages.

We are thankful for The San Diego Mountain Biking Association‘s cooperation in educating their members on the consequences of unauthorized trail building and in helping recruit restoration volunteers.

While events like this can often times erode the relationship between trail-users and trail-managers, we are confident that our partnership with SDMBA is strong enough to find solutions that help wildlife conservation and address the challenges faced by trail users.