37,000 Acres of Irvine Ranch Land Receives Prestigious ‘National Natural Landmark’ Designation from U.S. Department of Interior
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Standing on land singled out by the federal government for its national environmental importance, National Park Service Director Fran Mainella today announced the designation of 37,000 acres on the historic Irvine Ranch as a National Natural Landmark (NNL).
“The added bonus, of course, is that they happen to be remarkably beautiful as well. Simply put, they represent a shining example of our nation’s natural treasures, and I’m honored to welcome them into the Park Service’s National Natural Landmarks program.”
The designation by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior of The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark culminated an extensive and rigorous federal scientific evaluation process that involved the most objective, independent scientific study of the land to date, Mainella said.
“This is an extraordinary day for all of us who have worked so hard together to set a new standard for protection, conservation and public access to open space in Orange County,” said Donald Bren, chairman of The Irvine Company.
The 37,000 acres included in the NNL designation are precious, carefully preserved and maintained parks and open space owned by the County of Orange, the City of Irvine, The Irvine Company, The Nature Conservancy and California State Parks. They are part of the 50,000-acre Irvine Ranch Land Reserve, which was created over the last 100 years through conservation efforts of The Irvine Company, community organizations and municipalities.
"We must protect our environment so our children and grandchildren can enjoy the great land that we have inherited," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Today's event celebrates another area of our state that can be enjoyed for generations."
The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark is the first NNL to be designated in California since 1987.
The areas recognized by the NNL designation include Limestone and Fremont canyons, in the northern section of The Irvine Ranch in unincorporated county territory; Peters Canyon Regional Park near the City of Orange and maintained by the County of Orange; Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, which form a vast contiguous open space system stretching between the cities of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach and extending inland along Laguna Canyon Road, and Bommer Canyon, a key part of the City of Irvine’s southern open space preserve.
National Natural Landmarks are considered outstanding examples of the natural heritage of the United States, alongside national parks, recreation areas and monuments. Fewer than 600 sites have received the special designation. They include Mount Shasta, Torrey Pines State Park and Anza Borrego Desert in California; fabled Diamond Head on the island of Oahu; the Willamette River in Oregon; Dinosaur Valley in Texas, and Monhegan Island in Maine.
The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark represents one of the few places in Southern California where contiguous, preserved habitats stretch from the mountains to the sea. It protects a wide variety of plants and animals, some endangered and others found nowhere else on earth.
Speaking from atop a bluff at Crystal Cove State Park to city, county, state and federal officials, Reserve landowners, and outdoor and environmental advocates, Mainella noted that the findings of the scientists who participated in the review process affirmed previous scientific evaluations that recognized the biological importance of the land.
“The lands included in The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark are first-rate in terms of their national environmental and scientific significance,” Mainella said. “The added bonus, of course, is that they happen to be remarkably beautiful as well. Simply put, they represent a shining example of our nation’s natural treasures, and I’m honored to welcome them into the Park Service’s National Natural Landmarks program.”
There have been many scientific studies on the geological and ecological resources on The Irvine Ranch in the last few decades, but the comprehensive review leading to the NNL designation was the most rigorous, objective and independent scientific study to date. Findings of the scientists who participated in the review confirmed and reinforced previous evaluations that recognized the biological and geological importance of the land, Mainella noted.
“The exceptionally high scientific value of these designated lands stems from a combination of unusual geological and rare biological characteristics,” said John Francis, vice president of research, conservation and exploration for the National Geographic Society. Rich coastal sage scrub and chaparral natural communities were the primary biological features that made many areas of the Reserve worthy of the NNL designation. Embedded within the expanses of scrub, Francis noted, are communities such as grasslands, stream corridors and oak woodlands, as well as important populations of rare and endangered plants and animals. The coastal sage scrub is very healthy and relatively undisturbed, and is one of the largest areas of this highly threatened Mediterranean-type shrubland remaining in California, the scientific reviewers noted.
In addition, rock formations and fossils found on the land revealed a sequence of events chronicling earth’s history that dates back nearly 80 million years. Indeed, geologists who studied the land as part of the NNL designation process recognized a number of unique and rare features, including fossils of hadrosaurian, or “duckbilled,” dinosaurs in the area known as Blind Canyon. “From a big-picture perspective, the designated lands on The Irvine Ranch NNL wonderfully illustrate the complicated geologic history of the southwestern margin of the United States,” Francis said.
“This designation is so important because there are very few places left in Southern California where high-quality habitats extend from the coastal shores to the inland foothills,” said Thomas Oberbauer, an expert on coastal Southern California plants and one of the peer reviewers who participated in The Irvine Ranch NNL scientific review.
Said Bren: “This designation validates the significance of the diverse land protected on the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve, and the remarkable cooperation between our company and government, community and environmental organizations whose collective efforts preserved and sustain this land. It is a spectacular natural and recreational resource unmatched in its variety, beauty and accessibility -- a national treasure for all to enjoy.”
The NNL program was established to encourage the protection of America’s natural heritage while fostering scientific advancement and education to better understand these irreplaceable resources. To be designated an NNL, nominated sites must undergo a rigorous evaluation process and meet exacting scientific standards. The protected natural habitats on The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark were evaluated and peer-reviewed by 10 recognized experts in biology and geology, who concluded that the natural resources were among the best examples to be found anywhere. The Irvine Company submitted the application to the National Park Service for the NNL designation.
Tens of thousands of people visit the parks, trails and natural habitats on the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve every year. Bren predicted that, with the new designation of 37,000 acres as the Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark, even greater numbers will come to understand and appreciate the wonders of the Reserve. The commitment to providing new and diverse opportunities for public enjoyment is carefully balanced with measures to protect this natural resource by all the owners and managers of the land, so that it will be preserved forever and its beauty can be experienced for generations to The Irvine Company come, he noted.
“Many people may not automatically equate Orange County with nationally significant natural wonders,” said Congressman John Campbell (R-Irvine). “But today’s designation by the National Park Service puts an exclamation point on what all of us have been saying for years: If you want to take in some of Mother Nature’s most amazing handiwork, look no further than our own backyard.”
“This designation underscores the global significance of California’s Mediterrean-type ecosystems,” said Mark Burget, California Program Director of The Nature Conservancy, which has managed much of Te Irvine Ranch wildlands for the past 16 years. “Mediterranean habitats exist in only five places in the world and cover only 2 percent of Earth’s land mass. Yet they account for 20 percent of the world’s plant species.”
In May 2005, Bren unveiled an ambitious vision to enhance the protection, management and expansion of public access to the beautiful and environmentally significant lands on The Irvine Ranch. He announced formation of the non-profit Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust to help protect, restore and enhance the natural resources and to encourage the creation of new and diverse opportunities for public enjoyment and education.
At the same time, Bren announced a $20 million gift to support the Trust’s mission, which brought to $50 million the amount he has donated to enhance the Reserve. Working collaboratively with the numerous landowners and managers throughout the Reserve, the Trust initiates and conducts scientific, recreational and educational programs to ensure the conservation of the biologically rich 50,000 acres of permanently protected open space on The Irvine Ranch.
For more information on about the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve and the unique natural resources of The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark, go to http://irvineranchlandreserve.org/activities.