Protecting Species Dependent on San Diego's Vernal Pools

Riverside fairy shrimp. San Diego mesa mint, found nowhere else on Earth. California Orcutt grass. In the unincorporated areas of San Diego, these species depend on the habitat provided by vernal pools for survival. Unfortunately, most vernal pools in Southern California have disappeared forever, under housing tracts, freeways, and shopping malls. Where the pools have disappeared, so too have the endangered plants and animals these pools supported.

Case Overview

The San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) was approved in 1997; however the plan was criticized by scientists and conservationists as it neglected development limits and lack of conservation measures to protect some of the rarest species and habitats in the country. Following the approval of major new development plans to San Diego’s rare vernal pools, Earthjustice challenged the approval of the development project and the MSCP as it failed to conserve the pools species. The MSCP locked in its wetlands management plan for over 50 years, to insure “no surprises” for developers.

In 2006 a federal court invalidated the permit and ruled that the MSCP undermines the recovery of the seven vernal pool species, as the effects of anticipated major development on vernal pool species were never analyzed. The plan also failed to provide assured funding for conservation activities, previous vernal pool mitigation efforts had failed thus there was little certainly that MSCP’s proposed conservation efforts would ever materialize.

Since the ruling, the San Diego launched the Vernal Pool Habitat Conservation Plan and the Multiple Species Conservation Program now covers 85 species and the core biological resource areas within the cities within multiple habitat planning areas. Additionally, the city has entered into an implementation agreement with federal and state wildlife agencies to ensure the proper implementation of the MSCP.

A vernal pool at twilight.
A vernal pool at twilight. (Photo courtesy of Frederique Lavoipierre)

Case Updates

October 16, 2006 Press Release: Victory

Model San Diego Multiple Species Plan Doesn't Conserve Rarest Species

Judge finds fault with landmark habitat plan

October 16, 2006 document

San Diego Vernal Pools Decision and Injunction (10/13/06)

US District Court decision invalidating the Fish & Wildlife permit to the City of San for development of land containing vernal pool habitat