The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is stepping up educational outreach and enforcement to stop illegal activities including mountain biking, trail building, vandalism, theft, drone use, motorcycle use, equestrian use and dogs off leash at the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve in San Diego County.
The effort begins this weekend with the installation of new signage and increased enforcement by CDFW wildlife officers of long-standing regulations to protect animals, plants and habitats that depend on the reserve.
Simultaneously, CDFW is working to repair the extensive environmental damage caused by illegal mountain biking and the illegal construction of trails, berms and jumps that not only harm animals and damage habitat, but make the ecological reserve unsafe for authorized activities that include hiking, nature viewing and educational uses.
“I believe the vast majority of the mountain biking community in San Diego County cares deeply about the environment and follows the law. That’s not what’s happening at the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve,” said Ed Pert, manager of CDFW’s South Coast Region. “We’re dealing with vandals and trail poachers who take it upon themselves to build illegal trails and modify existing trails. These folks knowingly and willfully violate the law and the environment for their own amusement and personal gratification. Unfortunately, this group of bad actors is giving the entire mountain biking community here a bad name.”
The primary purpose of state ecological reserves is to protect sensitive species and habitats. The 473-acre Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve, sometimes referred to as CHER, was established formally in 2000, although its habitat protections date back to 1995 as a conservation bank to offset the impacts of local development. The reserve provides habitat for the federally threatened California gnatcatcher as well as state-listed endangered plants such as the Encinitas baccharis, thread-leaved Brodiaea, and other sensitive native species.
CDFW has been working with the local mountain biking community as well as the San Diego-based Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Coalition to identify good, legal alternatives to biking at CHER.
Areas within CHER that formerly supported rare plants now have illegal trails through them, and areas that previously supported the California gnatcatcher are fragmented and less productive. Habitat damage within the reserve is estimated at 12.5 acres with 17 miles of illegal trails forming an extensive trail system throughout the reserve that at one time was a contiguous block of undisturbed habitat.
Scientific studies on trail use consistently show that trails have significant impacts on wildlife behavior, movement and habitat use. While CDFW encourages Californians to get outside and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, the illegal use and overuse of sensitive properties such as the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve has significant consequences on wildlife. In addition to the loss of habitat, wildlife such as lizards, frogs and snakes are often killed when run over by mountain bikers or motorcyclists.
Under state law (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 630), CDFW is obligated to protect and maintain designated ecological reserves, which includes enforcing the rules. Failure to comply could result in a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
“CDFW has no interest in being punitive. We just want the illegal behavior to stop,” Pert said. “So we are getting the word out to anyone who might knowingly or unknowingly ride illegally on CHER. Please don’t ride there. You could be fined.”
For more information on CHER, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/lands/places-to-visit/carlsbad-highlands-er.
Photos and video clips of vandalism, theft and environmental damage at CHER can be found at ftp://ftp.wildlife.ca.gov/oceo/carlsbadhighlandser.
Photos: The Coastal California gnatcatcher is a federally threatened species that depends on the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve for habitat. Illegal mountain biking and trail construction jeopardizes the reserve’s ability to safeguard the charismatic songbird along with other sensitive plant and animal species at the reserve. Examples of the extensive damage at the ecological reserve are pictured in the slideshow above.