The San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) was developed for the conservation of plants and animals in the south part of San Diego County, under the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act of 1991 (California Department of Fish and Game) and the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S. Code 1531-1544.) The Program is on the leading edge of conservation, as it seeks to both guide development and conserve at-risk species with the oversight of both State and Federal agencies. Lands were identified for inclusion in the MSCP based on their value as habitat for at-risk plants or plant communities (Natural Community Conservation Planning, 2005). Since its inception in the mid-1990s the Program has protected over 100,000 acres, involving 15 jurisdictions and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) in the conservation of 87 taxa. Surveys for covered species have been conducted, and management and monitoring have been implemented at some high priority sites. Each jurisdiction or agency manages and monitors their conservation areas independently, while collaborating regionally for long-term protection.
The San Diego MSCP is on the forefront of conservation, in one of the most rapidly growing urban areas of the country. The planning effort that developed the MSCP was state-of-the-art, using expert knowledge, spatial habitat modeling, and principles of preserve design to identify and prioritize areas for protection. Land acquisition and protection are ahead of schedule for most jurisdictions. Surveys have verified the locations of many rare plant populations known from earlier collections, and they provide general information on population size and health useful for further conservation planning. Management plans have been written or are in development for most MSCP parcels under jurisdictional control. Several agencies are developing databases for implementation and management tracking. In many ways this program is at the cutting edge of regional conservation, testing concepts, developing techniques, and demonstrating conservation effectiveness in new and uncharted ways. Periodic program review is crucial to the continued success of the program, as it moves from a phase of planning and acquisition to one of management and monitoring.
Ecological monitoring is the key to assessing the success of the protection and management implemented at each individual reserve and for the MSCP as a whole. The ultimate goal of the Program is conservation of at-risk taxa and their habitats, as well as underlying ecological processes that contribute to sustainability of the ecosystem. Monitoring guidelines and timetables were developed by Ogden Environmental and Energy Services Co., Inc. (1996), and reviewed by Conservation Biology Institute (2001). The Program is in transition now, from the initial stage of land protection to one of land management and monitoring to determine population responses to management regimes. Several agencies have already invested substantial effort in status and trend monitoring, while others are developing their monitoring plans. Management is ongoing at several sites. With both management and monitoring, collaboration and coordination among jurisdictions can be especially fruitful in conserving resources and maximizing success.