Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve

view of river valley at Rancho Jamul ER
old chimney at Rancho Jamul ER


The approximately 5,600-acre Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve is an important component of the link opens in new windowMultiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) multi-habitat preserve system in southwestern San Diego County, supporting large areas of coastal sage scrub, annual grasslands and riparian habitat. The MSCP is a subregional plan under the auspices of the State's Natural Community Conservation Planning program. Numerous public ownerships connect to provide a large core area of conserved land, including BLM's Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, the US Fish and Wildlife Service's San Diego-Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge, CDFW's adjacent Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area and various City and County of San Diego ownerships. The Cleveland National Forest is close but not immediately adjacent to State-owned lands.

The site includes large, open grasslands that provide foraging habitat for abundant and diverse raptor species. Coastal sage scrub habitat is valuable for numerous sensitive species, and willow-sycamore riparian areas provide nesting habitat and are of overall importance as water sources for wildlife.

For more information, call the South Coast Region's San Diego office at (858) 467-4201.

Recreational Opportunities

Wildlife Viewing

Hours: The reserve is only open for special events.

Activities: wildlife viewing

NOTE: Visitors are responsible for knowing and complying with all regulations pertaining to the use of Department lands.

Refer to the Public Uses on State and Federal Lands section of the Waterfowl, Upland Game, and Public Use Regulations (PDF) booklet for both statewide and property-specific regulations.

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You may not operate a drone on CDFW Lands without a Special Use Permit.

Area History

Historically, Rancho Jamul has been used by the Kumayaay Indians for thousands of years for forage and living purposes, Spanish missionaries for grazing land (using the Kumeyaay Indians for labor), then owned by a series of private individuals, most notably Pio Pico, the last Mexican Governor of California.

For additional information on the early history of the area, please visit the following links:

Prior to acquisition by CDFW, the property was used for farming and livestock grazing by the well-known Daley Family of San Diego. The Department purchased the property in phases between 1998 and 2001 to conserve sensitive habitat and species in seven vegetation communities including chaparral, oak woodland, and freshwater marsh. The property was designated as an ecological reserve by the Fish and Game Commission in August of 2000.

In October/November of 2003, three of the worst fires in California history engulfed southern California. The Otay Fire burned approximately 80% of the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve. In 2007 the Harris Fire burned portions of Rancho Jamul.

It will take several years for the vegetation to regenerate. A restoration project over a portion of the reserve and nearby Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area was initiated in 2013 with funding from a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board, Resources Legacy Fund and the San Diego Public Utilities Department. Over a three year period, River Partners, with the help of The California Conservation Corps, will plant native trees and shrub species along Jamul and Dulzura creeks to restore riparian, oak woodland and upland habitats.


Restoration of the riparian areas of Jamul and Dulzura Creeks is the largest of the projects being pursued on the reserve through the mitigation bank established by Wildlands, Inc. This bank is providing up to 250 acres of created wetlands habitat and mitigation opportunity for wetlands lost elsewhere in this general vicinity.

Grassland restoration is proposed through controlled burning, exotic plant control, and seeding, with a one-acre pilot project started in the northern part of the reserve. Native grassland remnants will provide the seed source for further efforts. These efforts are expected to be extremely long-term because of difficulty in controlling non-native grasses.

Control of exotic plants is a major part of the conservation efforts on the reserve, as part of restoration as well as general efforts to remove noxious weeds and highly invasive species.

Augmentation projects are planned to expand existing oak woodland and riparian areas degraded by past ranching and farming on the property. Volunteers will assist with planting trees and removing fences to allow for greater wildlife movement. Water projects are planned to guard against extreme drought conditions and expand available habitat for species.

A variety of conservation biology research is conducted on the reserve in partnership with CDFW. Some of the partners include: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, University of California San Diego, San Diego State University, Conservation Biology Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and San Diego's Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The Earth Discovery Institutes assists in outreach and educational services.

Monitoring of habitats and sensitive species is being done by Department biologists as well as several contract biologists. In addition, there are several graduate students working on projects, including habitat quality and species home range studies.


Many species are both sensitive and covered by the MSCP, and are monitored to observe overall area population trends.

Plants: coast live oak, Otay tarplant, San Diego thornmint, San Diego sunflower, Palmer’s ericameria

Butterflies: Quino checkerspot, Hermes copper

Raptors: northern harrier, peregrine falcon, prairie falcon, merlin, golden eagle, burrowing owl, white-tailed kite, and red-tailed hawk.

Other Birds: grasshopper sparrow, least Bell's vireo, California gnatcatchers, California rufous-crowned sparrow

Herpetofauna: coast horned lizard, orange-throated whiptail, western skink, western patch-nosed snake, two-striped gartersnake, red diamond rattlesnake and western spadefoot toad

Mammals: southern mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, gray fox, San Diego black tailed jackrabbit, numerous small mammals, and 12 species of bats

Species Lists (PDF):

Map of Rancho Jamul ER location - click to enlarge in new window
Click to enlarge


South Coast Region (Region 5)

San Diego County

in the eastern part of San Diego County between the towns of Jamul and Dulzura

Directions: Directions from Downtown San Diego: follow Highway 94 (AKA Campo Road) east through the town of Jamul. Approximately two miles after passing the Jamul Fire Station is the entrance on the south/west side of Highway 94.

link opens in new windowTopographical Map (PDF)

CDFW Lands Viewer