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The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy has received $1.5 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board to restore 12.5 acres or riparian habitat in Rancho Santa Fe.

Approved Feb. 15, the grant from the state agency will pay to remove invasive trees and plants and revegetate a quarter-mile stretch of high-value, riparian habitat north of Lusardi Creek and east of the Arroyo Preserve.

Clearing the waterway of eucalyptus, palms, reeds and other nonnative plants will greatly improve fire safety in a high-risk area blackened by wildfire in 2007. The work also will reduce flood risks by improving streamflow in the river.

The three-year project is expected to begin in the fall continue through summer of 2027, with the bulk of non-native species removal programmed for gaps in the nesting seasons. The state grant covers monitoring of the restoration area through 2027.

As designed, the project will provide important habitat for two documented endangered birds — the least Bell’s vireo and light-footed ridgeway’s rail — and connections to other conserved lands for mammals such as the American badger, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, mule deer and gray fox.

Adjoining lands include the Crosby Habitat Management Area, Lusardi County Park, the San Dieguito Lagoon and several undeveloped private properties.

“[The restoration] will improve the experience of trail users on the Coast to Crest Trail, which runs along the ridge to the east of the Arroyo Preserve,” said Jonathan Appelbaum, consulting biologist.

Connectivity for wildlife and people is part of a larger, 181-acre restoration program within the river valley.

Plans for revegetation include seed, live cuttings and purchased plants at 125 plants per acre for a total of more than 1,500 plants. Collaborators include the Rancho Santa Fe Association, which owns the property, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, the San Dieguito River Park JPA, Fairbanks Ranch Association, US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Native Plant Society, Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County and many others.

“This would not have been possible without the support of our partners,” said Cheryl Goddard, executive director, San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.

On March 7, the Rancho Santa Fe Association Board of Directors voted to advance the project.


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