Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office

Border Mountains  (Western San Diego County)

The rugged mountains are generally covered by mixed chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitat supporting a diverse array of plants and wildlife representative of the border region.

The BLM administers over 68,000 acres of public land in western San Diego County.  Most of these lands lie along the US-Mexico border within close proximity to the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area, with a population of well over 3 million people.  These public lands include wilderness, Hauser Mountain Wilderness Study Area, and 15 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, National Register cultural sites, and other special designations.  The 18,500-acre Otay Mountain Wilderness forms the backdrop to the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area, forming an important part of the Tijuana River and Otay River watersheds.  The Kuchamaa/Tecate Peak Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) encompasses the sacred mountain that is a spiritual center for Native American people of southern California and northern Baja California.  The Cedar Canyon ACEC was designated to protect the rare Mexican flannelbush and the Tecate Cypress.

The South Coast eco-region is biologically rich, containing nearly one quarter of all species found in the United States, with over half of these species found nowhere else in the world.  Wildlife species include mountain lion, mule deer, ringtail cat, and Monterey and arboreal salamanders.  Both California and mountain quail also occur in this area.  The world's largest stand of Tecate cypress is found here, as are at least 15 endangered, threatened or rare plant species.  The threatened Coastal California gnatcatcher and the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly are wildlife species of special concern.  The public awareness of this biodiversity has resulted in several major planning efforts in the region to conserve these resources.  This region is also expected to double in population, from three million to over six million, by the year 2020.

The BLM South Coast Resource Management Plan was completed in 1994, and is currently undergoing revision, since there have been many changes in the region.  In 1998 the city of San Diego and 11 other jurisdictions adopted the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP), a regional interconnected habitat conservation system.  The MSCP plan is being developed to conserve 85 rare or listed species in a preserve system to encompass over 170,000 acres.  Other portions of the county will be included in subsequent plans, including the Multiple Habitat Conservation Plan for the north county.  In addition, Congress established the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge in 1996.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to purchase 43,800 acres for the Otay-Sweetwater Unit of the refuge.  This unit of the refuge is adjacent to the BLM-managed lands on Otay Mountain.  The California Department of Fish and Game also manages reserves next to BLM lands, including the Otay Mountain and Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserves.  In 1999, Congress established the 18,500-acre Otay Mountain Wilderness, to be managed by BLM.

The BLM, through MOU's with local and State governments, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, have agreed to cooperate in the planning and creation of the MSCP.  While BLM-managed lands form an integral part of the habitat conservation system, BLM has also agreed to pursue strategies including acquisitions, exchanges, R&PP leases, and donations.  In total, there are 117 parcels of public land managed by BLM in the planning area.  The scattered parcels, throughout the county, range from a few acres to several thousand acres.  Public lands in the border region are to be retained unless they can be exchanged for lands which assist in implementing the MSCP.  Uses include permitted grazing, apiary sites, wildlife improvements and guzzlers, communications sites and other rights of way; and recreation including hunting, horseback riding, OHV touring, mountain bike and motorcycle riding, and hiking.  Many parcels in the central and northwest portion of the county are leased or pending patent under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.   There are also military uses on some public lands within the county, primarily for training and communications.

The landscape and vegetation are very prone to fire, and risk is increased with years of suppression and heavy vegetation growth.  Fires are almost all human-caused, and many are related to undocumented immigrants.  In 1994 there were 24 fires in the Otay Mountain area, burning 2,900 acres.  In 1996 alone, there were over 300 fires, consuming 22,700 acres and resulting in immigrant deaths.  The number of abandoned campfires and the risk to human life have both been reduced in recent years through cooperative efforts between BLM and the Border Agency Fire Council.

O b j e c t i v e s

1.  Coordinate management activities along the border with Mexican and U.S. agencies.

2.  Provide protection and enhancement for biological values, with emphasis on Otay Mountain and Tecate Peak.

3.  Provide for effective fire protection, fire prevention and vegetation management in cooperation with local communities, Fire Safe Councils, and California Department of Forestry.

4.  Provide for effective management and protection of cultural sites and values, with emphasis on mitigating effects on Tecate Peak.

5.  Work with local community leadership and law enforcement agencies to provide for safe visits to public land and to discourage illegal uses.

6.  Provide for community infrastructure needs to support San Diego County, with emphasis on energy, communications and support to military bases.