Story gave San Diego plan short shrift

  The article on the San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) paints an overly negative picture of the effort (HCN, 11/10/03: San Diego's Habitat Triage). The MSCP took a fragmented ecosystem within a major metropolitan area — otherwise on the road to oblivion — and created an interconnected reserve system. Indeed, the most developable large tract of land remaining on the urban fringe is now preserved. While information gaps prohibited scientific accountability at one level, the program pioneered the application of the “core and linkage” model recommended by conservation biologists.

While no one is better aware of the deficiencies of the plan than those who, like us, struggled for years to maximize its benefits, a statement that the outcome is “probably” better than the status quo is simply absurd. Fundamentally, the MSCP harnessed the power of local land-use authority — zoning and entitlement — into a partnership with state and federal agencies in achieving Endangered Species Act mandates. The lack of land-use authority on the part of these agencies is the reason why endangered species protection on private lands typically falls short, resulting in “postage stamp” preserves. Furthermore, collaboration among interest groups was not for the sake of compromise, but to leverage political action.

It should be understood that an ESA-driven process, however scientific, will never be a substitute for sustainable land-use planning.

Unfortunately, policy is made by decision-makers, whose election the environmental community has effectively abandoned to the building and real estate industry. It is apparently easier for environmentalists to criticize decisions and file lawsuits than to get involved in the necessarily impure political process in which decisions are actually made.

Dan Silver
Los Angeles, California

The writer is executive director of the Endangered Habitats League.