Montecito Ranch. Courtesy of the county

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved the easement of 220.5 acres of open space for a future conservation project near the community of Ramona.

The land is now part of the 935-acre plot called Montecito Ranch, which is managed by the nonprofit Endangered Habitats Conservancy and several governmental agencies, including the California Wildlife Conservation Board and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

While the board basically replaced one open-space easement with another, it was an important decision, said Michael Beck, San Diego director of Endangered Habitats League, which operates the conservancy.

“We’re very pleased,” said Beck, who said that EHL is excited about restoring habitat and reintroducing wildlife, including the Stephens’ kangaroo rat, to the area.

“It adds to the larger ecosystem of the Ramona Grasslands (Preserve),”  a popular spot for hikers and wildlife enthusiasts, Beck added.

The 935 acres was originally slated for a 417-home development that county supervisors approved in 2010, but the applicant later decided not to move forward.

Because some habitat was destroyed during that development process, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service set aside a punitive easement of the 220 acres, then owned by the county.

In July 2020, the conservancy announced a partnership with several state and governmental agencies to conserve the 935 acres.

According to a 2020 Ramona Sentinel article, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Wildlife Conservation Board contributed $9 million toward the land purchase, while the U.S. Department of Defense contributed another $9 million.

EHL Executive Director Dan Silver said other important species, including the golden eagle, will also benefit from the conservation project.

Silver also credited the original Montecito Ranch property owner for cooperating with EHL and other agencies.

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