By Karen Brainard
San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation’s proposal for new trails and infrastructure in the Ramona Grasslands has created controversy between those who believe the county-owned land should be available for public use and those who are concerned for the golden eagles that live there.
The public comment period for the draft mitigated negative declaration (MND) and initial study of the proposal ended on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
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.
New infrastructure proposed for the northeast portion of the preserve includes a three-acre staging area with parking for 30 cars and 18 vehicles with horse trailers, ranger station/interpretive center/restroom, maintenance building, primitive amphitheater, picnic areas, viewing pavilion/visitor kiosk and a horse arena.
Wildlife Research Institute Executive Director Dave Bittner said he is not happy with the plans because of the proposed trails’ proximity to a foraging area for golden eagles northwest of the Ramona Airport and their nesting area on private land adjoining the preserve in Bandy Canyon. A proposed trail, he said, would be about 2,000 feet across a canyon from where the 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.
Letters in support of the trails, however, note that the land was purchased with public monies and should be open for people to responsibly enjoy nature.
Findings in the draft MND state there is no substantial evidence the project will have a significant effect on the environment.
The eagles are of great concern to the county, said Michael Drake, communications officer for the county’s land use and environment group.
“The resource management and public access plan for the Grasslands is being carefully crafted,” Drake 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.”
Information on the plans may be viewed at www.sdcounty.ca.gov/parks/public_review.html.