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Within the boundaries of The Irvine Ranch®, a national model of habitat conservation and management is at work protecting entire natural communities and the many birds, reptiles and other animals that depend on them for survival. Known as The Nature Reserve of Orange County, it is a collaborative, multi-agency effort that plays a vital role in ensuring the long-term conservation of the Reserve’s sensitive resources.

Until 1991, habitat and wildlife protection in Orange County and elsewhere in California occurred on a project-by-project basis that usually focused on a single species. But that year, the state created the Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP), a much more comprehensive approach to reconciling the need for new growth with the importance of preserving and managing entire local natural communities such as oak woodlands and coastal sage scrub. The Nature Reserve of Orange County was created in 1996 when 37,000 acres of land were set aside for permanent protection-21,000 acres contributed by the Irvine Company and 16,000 acres from other entities.

The Nature Reserve of Orange County plays a key role in the protection and management of sensitive natural communities on The Irvine Ranch®. According to its mission statement, it was created “to ensure the persistence of the reserve’s natural communities…through the protection, study and restoration of native habitats and natural processes.” As just one example of its large-scale conservation efforts, The Nature Reserve of Orange County protects and restores local coastal sage scrub habitat, which supports species that are rarely found in other parts of the world.

The Nature Reserve of Orange County protects hundreds of plant, animal, insect and reptile species, including the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher. The Nature Reserve also protects eleven diverse nature habitats, including the four ecosystems found in Limestone Canyon. This type of conservation focuses on habitats instead of on a single species. This is significant because the plants and animals found in the communities rely on one another for their survival. For example, the gnatcatcher is listed as threatened by the federal government. It relies almost entirely on the coastal sagebrush plant for its survival. In areas where the plant is absent, the gnatcatcher is rarely seen.

Through its comprehensive approach to protecting and managing entire natural communities, The Nature Reserve of Orange County is helping to ensure that our rich natural heritage will be conserved for generations to come.