TECC Acquires 242 Acres of Important Wildlife Habitat in Elfin Forest!
In TECC’s strategic plan, we tell the story of the founding of the organization twenty four years ago:
“In the spring of 1989, a small group of Elfin Forest neighbors went on a hike up Meisha Creek, a tributary of Escondido Creek, to a picnic lunch under an oak grove which is now under the water of the Olivenhain Reservoir. At that time development was taking off in North County. The friends had worked together for years to fight development via the governmental regulatory process, but their experience was disappointing; even if a development was denied by elected officials after a long fight, it just came back in a year or two in a different configuration. “
While there wasn’t just one property of concern 24 years ago-there were many-one in particular was high on the radar, in the heart of Elfin Forest, 500+/- acres now known as Cielo Del Norte.
Approved for development of 155 homes by the County Board of Supervisors, TECC supporters will recall in 2012 we were able to purchase the first phase of Cielo Del Norte “A” (entitled for 78 homes) with the help of The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Wildlife Conservation Board. We were thrilled to be a part of the partnership that conserved the first portion of Cielo Del Norte, which TECC now owns and manages as wildlife habitat, land important to the coastal California gnatcatcher “core” of San Diego’s regional conservation plans.
In 2013-2014, the economy was improving and developers were also interested in acquiring the second phase of Cielo Del Norte known as “B,” which had county approvals to build up to 77 homes. During this period it appeared that the developers would be able to move faster to acquire the property than TECC, which relies on government funding for major acquisitions. Fortunately we had a seller willing to sell the property to the buyer that could secure the funding the fastest and strong partners ready to step up to the challenge. The race was on to see who could get it done first.
Our first bit of good luck came as a result of some hard work. TECC submitted a grant to SANDAG in December of 2013 to partially fund the purchase and received a $4.8 million TRANSET award. SANDAG’s support gave TECC the first significant commitment towards our $13 million target. Concurrently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife received a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nontraditional section 6 Land Acquisition grant which was leveraged with the SANDAG grant award. Both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Wildlife Conservation Board worked in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support habitat acquisition projects in key conservation priority areas like the Escondido Creek watershed.
The Wildlife Conservation Board was crucial to the success of the transaction as they were able to expeditiously schedule the grant for consideration before their board, which allowed TECC to stay on schedule per our contract with the seller. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service played a key role throughout the process, helping to make the case for funding because of the biological importance of the Cielo Del Norte property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also acted as a match-maker of sorts to introduce Cielo del Norte Phase B to the last major funder that helped TECC reach the very high bar of a $13 million purchase price, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).
It may seem odd for a regulated power utility to invest in wildlife habitat. In this case, SDG&E contributed towards the acquisition which helped support SDG&E’s Subregional Natural Community Conservation Plan (SDG&E’s version of the MSCP). SDG&E has been a long-time supporter of TECC’s environmental educational programs and we are enormously appreciative for their support of this acquisition. SDG&E and SANDAG both also contributed towards an endowment which will help TECC maintain the property into the future.
With the money lined up, and more than a little stress including running to UPS with five minutes to spare on multiple occasions (I can personally attest to this part), TECC was able to close escrow on the 242-acre Cielo del Norte Phase B property in May. Both Cielo B and Cielo A are now owned and managed by TECC as part of the Escondido Creek Conservation Area.
We are now developing a comprehensive habitat management plan for the properties (now called the Los Cielos Preserve.) The management plan will make certain that the land, which was purchased with funds specifically designated for the protection of wildlife habitat, will be maintained and enhanced to support wildlife in perpetuity. Look for more information about the Los Cielos Preserve in the months ahead.
TECC couldn’t have pulled this complicated transaction off without its donors. Your donations help us pay the rent and keep the lights on, support staff time to write grants and implement all of TECC’s conservation work. With your continued donations we leverage your contributions into multi-million dollar conservation success stories like this one.
Kevin Barnard, President