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Rincon donates land for endangered toad

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SAN DIEGO - It is not often that stories that involve the construction of a
tribal casino and involvement by the federal and county governments
actually have a happy and easy ending, but that was the case recently near
the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians.

After being forced by the federal government to mitigate land being
developed for its casino, the Rincon Band seems to have backed into a
win-win situation.

At issue is the endangered Arroyo toad, whose habitat is along the San Luis
Rey River in north San Diego County. This was land where the Rincon tribe
had planned to develop their recently expanded Harrah's casino. However,
the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned over impacts to the
endangered toad.

The tribe had workers capture several hundred toads and relocate them in
another area of the tribe's land.

While this was happening, the county of San Diego was looking to establish
a regional park in the areas in which the toads were found. The park had
been a dream of County Supervisor Bill Horn whose district covers the area
near the Rincon reservation. Horn had hoped to establish a park in the area
for years but it wasn't until recently that the San Luis Rey River Regional
Park looked like it could become a reality.

Horn, a Republican, is not what would typically be described as an
eco-warrior. He disagrees with the U.S. government's designation of the
toad as endangered species but also contends that that designation is what
made this land deal happen.

Rincon Chairman John Currier also did not sound too happy that the tribe
was forced to mitigate their project.

"It's always hard when you have to mitigate," said Currier who also added
that this was the first time in tribal history that such mitigation has
taken place.

What finally transpired was a project that is described by Horn as a
"win-win for everyone involved." The tribe acquired two parcels of land
totaling 83 acres. Originally the tribe was only required to purchase 53
acres, but they eventually purchased the additional 30 acres at a total
cost of $1.5 million.

The two parcels of land just happened to be where the county was looking to
establish the regional park. So in early December the tribe agreed to give
the county of San Diego the land as a mitigation measure.

"It worked out really nice," said Horn, who credits the tribe for making
the deal go well.

Currier said that the next step for Rincon is to seek a long-range working
plan for future mitigation measures that will cover future expansions at
the casino, which the tribe plans to do. Already some expansion has taken
place. On Dec. 20 the tribe will open to the public the fruits of a $165
million upgrade and Currier said more is planned for the future.