San Diego, CA: Proposal involves public, private land

By Kathryn Balint

April 24, 2003

San Diego, CA - More than 6,000 acres of public and private land in San Diego and Orange counties would be protected as "critical habitat" for the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp under a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposal, issued Tuesday, includes land in Carlsbad, Chula Vista, San Marcos, Ramona and San Diego. It is the latest step in five years of litigation among builders, environmental activists and the federal agency over protecting the habitat of the fairy shrimp.

The inch-long crustacean lives in vernal pools that fill with water during the rainy season and dry up during the summer.

Scientists estimate that 95 percent or more of the region's vernal pools have been destroyed. Many of the few that remain are on mesas, flat land that is often considered prime for development.

Land designated as critical habitat may be developed. However, measures must be taken to protect the habitat.

Of the 6,098 acres the federal agency wants to designate, 5,735 are in San Diego County.

Activists with the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Ariz., say such protections are important to save the fairy shrimp from extinction.

David Hogan, spokesman for the San Diego office of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal government's proposal to designate some 6,000 acres for the fairy shrimp doesn't go nearly far enough. He said five times that amount would be more appropriate.

At one point, in March 2000, 36,501 acres were under consideration by the Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for the fairy shrimp, Hogan said.

However, the roughly 6,000 acres proposed for protection this week represent a substantial increase from the 4,025 acres the Fish and Wildlife Service had designated in October 2000.

Much of the additional acreage is in South County, near the border.

Some of the sites considered, but excluded from the proposal, include land on Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, training areas at Camp Pendleton and the Navy's radio receiving facility in Coronado.

Military property in Coronado and at Miramar already has natural-resource management plans, said Jane Hendron of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Carlsbad. The decision to exclude the Camp Pendleton training area was made "in light of national security interests," Hendron said.

The Building Industry Association of San Diego does not yet have a comment on the federal government's proposal. Matthew Adams, director of governmental affairs for the association, said he is still reviewing it.

He did say that designation of land as critical habitat in general, however, could drive up building costs in a region where housing prices are already soaring.

"We have a very small pie in terms of land that's available for development," Adams said. "Critical habitat shrinks the pie even more, which means what's left to build on gets even more expensive."

The dispute over protecting the habitat of the fairy shrimp began in 1997, when the federal government listed the species as endangered but did not designate any of its habitat for protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In response, the agency made a critical-habitat designation in October 2000.

Soon after, the construction industry, including the Building Industry Association of San Diego, sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the agency didn't adequately consider the economic costs of protecting the land.

As a result, the Fish and Wildlife Service is re-examining its designated habitat for the fairy shrimp and the economic impacts. A court order requires the agency to come up with a new designation of critical habitat by April 2004.


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