January 18, 2008

Conservancy buys 1,000 acres to expand state park

Desert property is near Jacumba

By Anne Krueger STAFF WRITER
San Diego Union Tribune

The Nature Conservancy has bought more than 1,000 acres of desert in the southeastern corner of San Diego County, with plans to use the property to expand Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The national conservancy organization purchased the $2.3 million property near Jacumba with donations. David Van Cleve, the conservancy's senior project director, said the property was owned by five investors who bought the land intending to develop or sell it. The conservancy intends to sell the land to the state park.

Van Cleve said the property is a critical link between the state park, federal Bureau of Land Management property and land in Baja California. It will provide a habitat for endangered species including bighorn sheep and the Quino checkerspot butterfly, he said.

Van Cleve said the region on both sides of the border is one of five places in the world with the climate and geography to create diverse habitats of chaparral, grasslands and oak and coastal forests.

Van Cleve said the conservancy is meeting with state park officials to discuss selling the land. One person already has donated $900,000 toward the sale, he said.

Mark Jorgensen, superintendent of Anza-Borrego, said that park officials are interested in the property but that its purchase will depend on resolution of the state budget crisis. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed closing 48 state parks to save $14.3 million.

“We're going into hard budget times, so we'll have to find funds dedicated to” buying the land, he said.

Jorgensen said the purchase allows the land to be preserved until the state can buy it. Developers are already eyeing other parts of Jacumba. On 1,250 acres near the town center, a developer is proposing a project with 2,125 homes.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, with more than 600,000 acres, is the largest state park in the contiguous United States. Jorgensen said the addition of the property to the park would help ensure that wildlife can move freely between the United States and Mexico.

“It would be a pretty sad day to think we were cutting off that movement with triple fences and continued development,” he said.