In the heart of urban Orange County, within minutes of millions of residents, lies a magnificent 57,000-acre network of permanently preserved open space and parks.
Stretching from the mountains to the sea, these lands on The Irvine Ranch® are remarkable not only for their biological importance — they contain a wide range of habitats that support many species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles — but also for the breadth of year-round recreational activities they offer residents.
And twice, these permanently protected open spaces have been recognized as a Natural Landmark.
Two Natural Landmark Designations
In October 2006, after a detailed federal scientific evaluation process, the majority of The Irvine Ranch lands were designated a National Natural Landmark (NNL). This was the first NNL designated in California by the federal government since 1987. And in April 2008 many of these same lands were recognized with the first-ever designation under the new California Natural Landmarks (CNL) Program.
California and National Natural Landmarks are designated only after meeting rigorous scientific criteria. Areas chosen are those that best illustrate an area’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.
“I do not believe that there is another potential NNL site in all of the United States that places such a wealth of geologic features as close to such a major population center, thereby providing abundant opportunities for K-12 field trips, college students visits, graduate student and professional research, and for the general outdoor-oriented public to learn the lessons of the Earth.” – Richard Behl, Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, California State University, Long Beach
The designations reflect a remarkable legacy of foresight, and the fact that protecting precious natural resources has always received the same level of thoughtful planning as has creation of the acclaimed master-planned communities on The Ranch.
Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren played an instrumental leadership role in creating the vast 50,000-acre network on The Irvine Ranch. But acknowledging that simply setting aside the land wasn’t enough, Bren has committed $50 million to ensure the lands’ long-term protection, enhancement and access for the public’s discovery and enjoyment.
The Irvine Ranch lands contain some of California’s most beautiful wilderness, and are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, including raptors, mountain lions, Tecate cypress and California sycamore. The region has been recognized by conservation scientists as one of the world’s ecological “hot spots” — an area with large concentrations of species found nowhere else.
“This is the largest remaining patch of relatively undisturbed sage scrub immediately adjacent to the coast remaining in Southern California. The Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark contains a broad diversity of geological features, biological communities, and species. All of these other features are either associated with coastal sage scrub or chaparral communities or affected by them.” – David Lawhead, Associate Park and Recreation Specialist, Colorado Desert District, California Department of Parks and Recreation
From an environmental perspective, The Irvine Ranch’s California and National Natural Landmark lands include everything from riparian forests and coastal sage scrub, to oak woodlands and grasslands. Rare and threatened species like the California gnatcatcher, cactus wren, acorn woodpecker, Coast horned lizard, Western spade-foot toad and the American badger live here.
The Irvine Ranch’s permanently protected open space is home to hundreds of species of native plants and animals and offers every form of public recreation imaginable. The lands in the California and National Natural Landmarks are part of a 50,000-acre network of parks, trails and open space. 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 by millions of residents.
Geologists who studied The Irvine Ranch recognized a number of unique and rare features — including fossils of hadrosaurian, or “duckbilled,” dinosaurs in the Blind Canyon area. On a large scale, the land is an outstanding illustration of the complicated and unique geologic history of the southwestern margin of the continental United States. The exceptionally wide spectrum of rock types and fossils captures changing landscapes and evolutionary events with remarkable completeness for a span of 80 million years. The terrain ranges from picturesque coastline subject to modern erosion and other natural processes to rugged, uplifted mountains where the geologic history of Southern California from the late Cretaceous period (65 million to 80 million years ago) to the late Pleistocene period (less than 1 million years ago) is beautifully exposed and largely intact.