OCEANSIDE — The Buena Vista Audubon Society closed escrow this week on 3.5 acres of wetlands adjacent to the Buena Vista Lagoon Ecological Reserve.
“It’s a great way to begin the year,” Andy Mauro, Buena Vista Audubon Society president, said. “It’s been a high priority for acquisition for a long time.”
The local Audubon Society has had its sights on purchasing the property, across the road from its nature center, for eight years.
The land was once slated to be developed with a hotel, condominiums and a restaurant, until the Coastal Commission denied the project. Residents asked the Audubon Society to lead the charge to purchase the property.
Mauro said the property price at the time was $7 million, and some donors were hesitant to contribute due to delays in approving restoration plans for the adjacent 220-acre reserve.
Over time the price of the property dropped, restoration plans moved forward, and the Audubon Society began a fundraising campaign to purchase the site.
Within two years sufficient donations came in from area residents, Audubon members, and nonprofits, with sizable donations from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, California Audubon Society, North County Advocates and Preserve Calavera.
The Audubon Society purchased the swatch of wetlands for $1.55 million.
“The goal is to restore it to a more viable wildlife habitat,” Mauro said. “About half the property is considered wetlands, the other half is also at that low elevation. It would be relatively easy to restore that property to support the adjacent habitat.”
Mauro said there are numerous benefits to the site purchase. It is home to the endangered Ridgeway’s Rail. The wetlands also provide a buffer between urban development and the reserve.
“You need to have buffer zones in order to make a habitat viable for the endangered species and native species that exist there,” Mauro said. “Otherwise the effects of having adjacent development start to degrade that habitat — we’re talking about runoff, and light pollution, and noise pollution, and exotic plants and exotic pest animals.”
Small-scale clean up of the site will begin right away. Volunteers will remove exotic invasive plants and trash. Mauro said in the coming months people who drive by the property will begin to see less ice plant, fewer eucalyptus trees, and more native grasses and shrubs.
Major restoration work will be done in conjunction with plans to restore the adjacent reserve. Mauro said an memorandum of understanding is being finalized with California Fish and Wildlife to maintain the site and include it as part of the reserve.
Restoration plans for the reserve are near adoption after a 20-year study and review process. It may be years before planned restoration work starts. Funds are not yet identified.
This is the first land purchase by the Buena Vista Audubon Society, which became a chapter in 1952. The Audubon Society is currently fundraising to purchase land by Whelan Lake. Mauro said members are quite excited about the prospects.