By Karen Brainard
Tuesday, Jan. 17, is the final day for the public to comment on San Diego County’s draft mitigated negative declaration (MND) and initial study of new trails and infrastructure proposed for the Ramona Grasslands. Comments must be received by 4 p.m.
The project proposes 8.6 miles of non-motorized, multi-use trails, including 6.5 miles of existing trails and ranch roads, and 2.1 miles of new trails within the 3,490-acre Ramona Grasslands Preserve. In addition, 2 miles of pathways are proposed along Highland Valley and Rangeland Roads, along with a three-acre staging area in the northeast portion of the preserve with a ranger station and primitive amphitheater.
The proposal has created controversy between residents who believe the county-owned Grasslands should be available for public use and Wildlife Research Institute Executive Director Dave Bittner who is concerned for the golden eagles that forage and nest in the Grasslands area.
Findings in the draft MND state there is no substantial evidence the project will have a significant effect on the environment.
Letters in support of the trails note that the land was purchased with public monies and should be open for people to responsibly enjoy nature.
However, Bittner said he’s not happy with the plans because of the proposed trails’ proximity to a foraging area northwest of the Ramona Airport and a nesting area on private land adjoining the preserve in Bandy Canyon. A proposed trail, he said, would be about 2000 feet across a canyon from where eagles nest.
“They flee at that distance from people,” Bittner said. If the eagles leave, their eggs will be eaten by ravens, he added.
Bittner said the county has already lost 56 percent of the golden eagle population.
According to Michael Drake, communications officer for the county’s land use and environment group, the eagles are of great concern to the county.
“The resource management and public access plan for the Grasslands is being carefully crafted,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure eagles’ nests are undisturbed while allowing county residents and visitors the opportunity to also enjoy this open area. Trails will be placed sufficiently far enough away from known nesting sites to ensure the viability of our eagles.”
The draft mitigated negative declaration can be reviewed at the county’s website: www.sdcounty.ca.gov/parks/public_review.html. It is also available at the Ramona Library, 1275 Main St., and at the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation, 5500 Overland Avenue, Suite 410, San Diego. Comments regarding the draft MND should be directed to Megan Hamilton at Megan.Hamilton@sdcounty.ca.gov.