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Frequently Asked Questions

How large is the City of Carlsbad Preserve System?

At build-out, the preserve system is expected to be approximately 6,786 acres, consisting mostly of natural upland and wetland habitats, including coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, riparian scrub, riparian forest, freshwater marsh, and grasslands. As of February 2008, a total of 6,222 acres have been preserved (5,957 acres within the HMP study area and an additional 265 acres within the Gnatcatcher Core Area southeast of the city).

How is the City of Carlsbad Preserve System (also called HMP Preserve or HMP Preserve System) being assembled?

The preserve system  consists of large blocks of undeveloped native habitats that are connected with habitat linkages, which allow plants and animals to move between blocks of habitat. The City of Carlsbad HMP Preserve System is being assembled through a combination of the following:

    • Conservation of lands already in public ownership,
    • Contributions from private development projects, and
    • Public acquisition of private lands with regional habitat value from willing sellers.

For more information, see answers to technical questions.

What is the HMP and why was it developed?

The City of Carlsbad's Habitat Management Plan (HMP) is a regulatory document that provides a plan for assembling the city's preserve system and guiding development within the city. The plan promotes conservation of habitat to support native plants and animals, active management of conserved lands, and public use that is compatible with habitat and species protection.

For more information, see answers to technical questions.         

What are the biological goals of the Plan?

The overall goal of the HMP is to contribute to the regional biodiversity and the viability of rare, unique, or sensitive biological resources throughout the City of Carlsbad. The specific biological and conservation objectives of the HMP are to:

    • Conserve the full range of vegetation types remaining in the city, with a focus on rare and sensitive habitats;
    • Conserve rare vegetation communities;
    • Conserve areas of habitat capable of supporting the HMP covered species in perpetuity;
    • Maintain functional wildlife corridors and habitat linkages with the city and the region, including linkages that connect coastal California gnatcatcher populations and movement corridors for large mammals;
    • Maintain functional biological cores;
    • Conserve narrow endemic species and maintain populations of target species; and
    • Apply a "no-net-loss" policy to the conservation of wetlands, riparian habitats, and oak woodland habitats throughout the city, and to coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats within the coastal zone.
What is the City of Carlsbad Open Space Management Plan (OSMP)?

The OSMP is the framework management plan to implement the City of Carlsbad Habitat Management Plan (HMP). It was developed with the input of the wildlife agencies, the California Coastal Commission, and the public to establish a process, standards, guidelines, and conditions for long-term conservation and management of the sensitive species and habitats within the north coastal portions of San Diego County. 

For more information, see answers to technical questions.     

Who administers the HMP?

There are several primary entities involved in implementation of the plan, including the (a) City of Carlsbad, (b) Preserve Steward, who helps coordinate overall HMP implementation, (c) Preserve Managers, who have direct responsibility for daily on-the-ground implementation, and (d) wildlife agencies, who oversee HMP compliance. In addition, the California Coastal Commission, broader scientific community, environmental NGOs and the general public may assist in this effort by reviewing and commenting on the ongoing implementation process, associated planning documents, and annual reports.

What is a Federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Incidental Take Permit?

The HMP qualifies as a HCP, which is a plan  designed to offset any harmful effects that a proposed activity, such as development, might have on a federally threatened or endangered species. An incidental take permit is required if "take" (harm, harass, or kill) of a threatened or endangered species is anticipated.

For more information, see answers to technical questions.

What is the Natural Communities Conservation Program (NCCP)?

An NCCP identifies and provides for the regional or area-wide protection of plants, animals, and their habitats, while allowing compatible and appropriate economic development. The HMP is a type of NCCP Plan.

For more information, see answers to technical questions.

What is the Multiple Habitat Conservation Program (MHCP)?

The MHCP is a subregional NCCP planning program designed to develop an ecosystem preserve in northwestern San Diego County.  The current MHCP study area consists of  seven incorporated cities (Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Solana Beach, and Vista). The MHCP is a framework document under which the HMP was developed.

For more information, see answers to technical questions.

What is an Implementing Agreement?

The HMP implementing agreement contains the conservation, monitoring, and management responsibilities, assurances of implementation, and corresponding authorizations for the take authorization holder (City of Carlsbad) and the wildlife agencies.

What is a preserve?

A preserve is an area set aside for the protection of native species and vegetation communities. The land is protected by open space zoning, a conservation easement, or other mechanism. "Preserving" land generally refers to the securing of land for the purpose of natural resources protection. "Conserving" land also means protecting the land, but generally includes active management of the habitats and species within the preserve.

Why do preserves need to be actively managed and monitored?

Because of the highly urbanized condition of our region, natural habitat tends to be fragmented and interlaced with development. This results in larger edge-to-area ratio (i.e. smaller, isolated pieces of habitat have more edges adjacent to development than a single, large block of land). More edges lead to more detrimental "edge effects," which include direct and indirect impacts from human activity. Edge effects can include excessive noise or nighttime lighting, which can disrupt breeding behavior of some sensitive bird species; pollutants (e.g. pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, discarded oil or paint thinner, etc.) from adjacent commercial or residential land use;  impacts from pets chasing wildlife or leaving waste which is not cleaned up by their owners; and changes in hydrology from adjacent irrigation. For more information on edge effects, take a look at the brochure: Help Protect City of Carlsbad's Natural Open Space.

What are the biggest threats to the plants and animals within the preserves?

The two greatest threats to the preserve system are invasion from non-native plant species and unauthorized human activities. For example, pampas grass, a common ornamental plant in backyards, can invade natural stream courses and choke out native species that provide habitat for sensitive bird species. This grass spreads quickly and is very difficult and costly to remove.

Unauthorized human activities include off-road vehicle use in areas not designated for this activity, resulting in denuded areas, massive erosion, and sedimentation into stream channels. There are many other things that harm native plants, wildlife or habitats. Please see the previous question/answer for more information.

What is a "covered species" and which species are covered by the HMP?

A covered species is a species that has been determined to be adequately protected under the HMP preserve design. The HMP provides for the conservation of 25 species.

What is a narrow endemic species?

Narrow endemic species are native species with restricted geographic distributions, soil affinities and/or habitats, and for purposes of the HMP, species that in addition have important populations within the Plan area, such that substantial loss of these populations or their habitat within the HMP area might jeopardize the continued existence or recovery of that species. A total of 17 narrow endemic species have the potential to occur within the City of Carlsbad, and four of these are covered by the HMP.

What sensitive habitats occur with the preserve system?

The City of Carlsbad Preserve System consists mostly of natural upland and wetland habitats, including Diegan coastal sage scrub, maritime succulent scrub, coastal sage-chaparral scrub, southern mixed chaparral, chamise chaparral, southern maritime chaparral, native and non-native grassland, coast live oak woodland, southern willow scrub, mulefat scrub, southern coast live oak riparian forest, southern cottonwood-willow riparian forest, freshwater marsh, southern coastal salt marsh, cismontane alkali marsh, estuarine wetlands, open water, and vernal pools.

What is mitigation?

Mitigation is an avoidance, minimization, or modification of a potentially harmful effect to native habitats or species caused by project or activity. Much of the preserve system is being built as mitigation for environmental impacts caused by development projects in the city (land is being set aside and protected to mitigate for land that is developed).

For more information, see answers to technical questions.

What can I do to help protect the natural open space within the City of Carlsbad?
  1. Read the brochure about edge effects, and exploring the links page for additional information.
  2. Educate friends and family after reading the information provided on this website.
  3. Take personal action by landscaping with native plants, not planting invasive species, respecting preserve rules, picking up after your pets when in a preserve, and packing out your trash.
  4. Become a citizen steward by reporting any unlawful activities that could harm the environment; become active in the Homeowners Association to protect open space owned by the HOA; and volunteer to help maintain trails, clean up trash, or serve as a docent. See the city's volunteer Web page.
  5. Interested in exploring the possibility of selling some or all of your property for open space preservation? Contact city staff (Mike Grim). In addition, the following organizations may be helpful:
          • Trust for Public Lands
          • The Nature Conservancy
          • Land Trust Alliance
          • California Department of Fish and Game
          • SANDAG Environmental Projects
          • California Coastal Conservancy
Which areas are accessible to the public?

The public will have access to parts of the preserve system in a way that maintains the biological integrity of the preserve system while allowing for public education, recreation, and enjoyment of the native landscape. Please refer to the Preserves page for specific information.

Why aren't all preserve areas open to the public?

The primary objective of the preserve system is to protect biodiversity, natural vegetation communities, and ecological function in the long-term. Even lawful enjoyment of the outdoors can put undue stress on the ecosystem and cause degradation over time. Human presence often brings noise that can disturb wildlife breeding or foraging activity, and can cause soil erosion, invasion by non-native species, and increased pollution. The city must balance recreational needs of the public with protection of its biological resources. Some areas are off limits to the public because there are sensitive species that need protection, habitat restoration projects, wet trails that must dry out after a heavy rain, highly erodible soils, etc.

What recreational activities are allowed within the City of Carlsbad preserves?

In general, hiking, bird-watching and other forms of passive (low-impact) recreational activities are allowed in areas that are open to the public. Pets are generally allowed as long as they are on a leash and their waste is removed. Picnicking is OK as long as all associated trash (including uneaten food) is packed out of the preserve. Note that many preserve areas do not provide trash receptacles. Biking and horseback riding may be allowed only in selected areas because of the heavy impacts caused by these activities. 

What activities are prohibited in the preserves?

No motorized vehicles are allowed anywhere in the preserve system. No camping is allowed, and smoking, fires, and firearms are prohibited. See additional postings at trailheads in each preserve for additional information.

Is the City of Carlsbad trail system part of the HMP Preserve System?

Some of the trails in the Citywide Trails Program are within preserve areas and some are not. Please see the citywide trails Web page for trail maps, guidelines for trail use, and information on volunteering.

How do I know if my property is within or adjacent to the HMP Preserve?

Consult the HMP Preserve map to get a general idea or call the Planning Public Service Counter (760) 602-4610.  Existing Hardline, Proposed Hardline, and Standards areas are all part of  the HMP Preserve.

Can I clear vegetation for fire safety within the HMP?

Vegetation cannot be cleared within the HMP for fire safety reasons. In most cases, a minimum 60-ft fire suppression zone has been established around all structures, but outside of all preserve boundaries. In some cases, older (pre-HMP) preserves may include an area of fire suppression within the preserve boundary. In this situation, it is the responsibility of the preserve manager (which may be a Home Owners Association) or the fire department to keep defensible spaces cleared.

If my land is included within the HMP planning area, will I be still able to develop my land?

Yes, but all new projects must be consistent with the HMP. If your property falls within a "Standards Area" (see HMP map) your project will be required to comply with the zone-specific standards described in the HMP.  If your property falls within the Coastal Zone, your project must comply with the Coastal Zone Conservation Standards. Projects adjacent to the preserve must adhere to the Adjacency Standards.

How will being in the HMP Planning Area affect the processing of my subdivision/permit?

HMP compliance will be analyzed concurrently with CEQA compliance, thereby streamlining the permitting process.

What do I need to know if my property is adjacent to a preserve area? 

The HMP planning area is an urban wildlife preserve system in which conserved habitat areas are adjacent to development of various types. In order to prevent negative impacts to the preserve, Adjacency Standards must be addressed during the planning process of projects adjacent the preserve lands. These standards include the following issues:

    • Fire management
    • Erosion control
    • Landscaping restrictions
    • Fencing, signs and lighting
    • Predator and exotic species control

Contact Information

Mike Grim
HMP coordinator
Senior planner

Rosanne Humphrey
Preserve steward