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Governor Celebrates Irvine Ranch Land Designated as first-ever California Natural Landmark at Earth Day Event

  • Governor Schwarzenegger celebrates Earth Day noting, “This designation is no small accomplishment, considering it is the first in a state admired throughout the world for its natural resources”
  • Honor recognizes designated land for its “extraordinary biological and geological character and diversity”
  • Conservation scientists have identified this region as one of the world’s ecological “hot spots” – an area with large concentrations of species found nowhere else
  • Part of larger 50,000-acre network easily accessible to millions of residents

Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp, Irvine, Calif.– (April 22, 2008) — Describing the land around her as a “majestic natural landmark,” California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman today announced that of the 50,000 acres permanently preserved on the historic Irvine Ranch, almost 40,000 have been designated as the first-ever California Natural Landmark (CNL). 

The designation is the first under a state program that officially recognizes and promotes both private and public stewardship of natural resources for public benefit in the state of California. It marks the second time that lands on The Irvine Ranch have received Natural Landmark status; in October 2006, the land was recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Interior when it was designated The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark.

“I am excited to honor Earth Day by celebrating this inaugural designation, which marks a major conservation milestone for California, and for everyone who has worked to protect and enhance these beautiful lands,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.“

“On behalf of the state of California, our heartfelt thanks go to Donald Bren for his leadership in setting aside so much of The Irvine Ranch for habitat protection, as well as his commitment to ensure it is accessible for people to discover and enjoy.

This designation is no small accomplishment, considering it is the first in a state admired throughout the world for its unique and stunning natural resources,” added Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The land included in the CNL contain some of the state’s most beautiful wilderness and are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, including raptors, mountain lions, Tecate cypress, California sycamore and several species of rare birds, reptiles and amphibians. The lands are owned by the County of Orange, City of Irvine, The Irvine Company, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Laguna Beach, General Services Administration and the City of Newport Beach. They are part of the 50,000 acres of open space and parks on The Irvine Ranch – a vast expanse created over the last 100 years through collaborative conservation efforts involving The Irvine Company, community organizations,municipalities, county and state agencies and environmental groups.

“I have known for a long time how unique and magnificent these lands are,” Donald Bren, chairman of The Irvine Company, said during a celebration in rural Bommer Canyon attended by city, county and state officials, CNL property landowners and outdoor and environmental advocates. “Today’s designation is the culmination of years of collaboration and determination for all of us who embrace a high standard for protection, conservation and public access to open space in Orange County.”

A few of the areas recognized by the CNL designation include Bommer Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, Upper Newport Bay, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Quail Hill and Limestone, Fremont and Weir canyons. Conservation scientists have identified the region as one of the world’s ecological “hot spots” – an area with large concentrations of species found nowhere else.

The CNL program is designed to highlight and recognize the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership, enhance the scientific and educational value of sites preserved, and strengthen public appreciation of California’s natural history. The goal of the program is to foster greater stewardship of natural resources and new partnerships between public and private entities.

“Our mission at California State Parks is to protect California’s incredible biological diversity, including our natural and cultural resources, and to educate residents while enriching their outdoor experiences,” noted Coleman, the state parks director.

“The California Natural Landmark program strengthens that commitment. The beautiful and biologically important lands throughout The Irvine Ranch CNL constitute a majestic natural landmark, and are the perfect place to begin this exciting new chapter in our state’s long and proud history of stewardship.”

Audubon California co-sponsored the bill that created the CNL program. “It is appropriate that we are celebrating the inaugural California Natural Landmark on Earth Day, because the program is an important way to recognize and encourage stewardship of important natural resources,” said Glenn Olson, executive director of Audubon California. “We believe that this program will lead to new partnerships and opportunities, particularly with private landowners, to recognize and assist in the conservation of our state’s most important resources.”

While vast in and of itself, The Irvine Ranch CNL is part of an even larger, 50,000-acre network of open space and parks. Stretching from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Cleveland National Forest, the land is a rarity in California: tens of thousands of acres of open space in the heart of urban Orange County, easily accessible to millions of residents.

Irvine Company Chairman Bren played an instrumental role in creating this expansive network. Bren has acknowledged that simply setting aside the land wasn’t enough; The Irvine Company has committed $50 million to ensure the lands’ long-term protection, enhancement and availability for the public’s discovery and enjoyment.

“Having spent many hours exploring the canyons and hills on foot and on bicycle, I’ve become intimately familiar with these vast open spaces, which I believe inspire one’s soul and creates a sense of freedom,” explained Bren. “This designation is especially meaningful for all of us because it further validates the conservation efforts that will keep this land special for generations to come.

“Right here, in the heart of Orange County, is the largest urban open space in the United States — 50,000 acres — with easy access for more than three million people.”

California Natural Landmarks are designated only after meeting rigorous scientific criteria. Areas chosen are those that best illustrate California’s rich biological and geological character; the scientific scrutiny considers the diversity and rarity of the area’s geological or paleontological features, its natural communities, habitat quality and the presence of rare, threatened or endangered species, and the land’s value for science and education.

The Irvine Ranch CNL includes a wide range of habitats — from riparian forests and coastal sage scrub, to oak woodlands and grasslands — that support a remarkable array of native wildlife and vegetation. A diversity of animals, including rare and threatened species, call this land home, including the California gnatcatcher, cactus wren, acorn woodpeckers, Coast horned lizard, Western spade-foot toad and the American badger, among others.

The open spaces and parks on The Irvine Ranch offer a variety of recreational opportunities, from hiking, horseback riding and mountain bike excursions to bird-watching, picnicking and tide pool exploration.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a variety of docent-led activities, including strenuous hikes or family outings to observe butterflies or examine animal prints embedded in the mud. They can ride mountain bikes along rock-embedded trails, ride horses deep into steep-walled canyons, enjoy picnics on the beach, paddle a kayak in the Back Bay and toss a Frisbee in a park.

Activities are designed for people of all ages and abilities. To sign up for one or more of the various outings available, and to learn about other outdoor opportunities, visit www.irvineranchwildlands.org.

Watch a two-and-a-half-minute video compiled for the event showing some of the beautiful open space on the ranch.