Orange County is First for California Natural Landmark

I’m quite biased to the open spaces we have in Orange County, I find them to be far more valuable than anything that might be developed on them, I know, oh the blasphemy capitalist!  But the fact is, our society rarely finds monetary value in things that are left to be, open and unused.

Nearly 40,000 acres of Orange County parkland stretching from the coast to the foothills — once part of the historic Irvine Ranch — has been deemed so ecologically valuable by state officials that on Tuesday they designated it the first California Natural Landmark.

The program is designed to recognize significant open space areas by placing them in a statewide registry.

Although the designation is only a title — it does not require the land to be permanently protected or opened to the public — officials hope the attention it brings will encourage long-term preservation.

LA Times


 “Only in California can you see a 40,000-acre natural landmark right in the middle of one of the nation’s most vibrant and economically important urban areas,” Schwarzenegger said before unveiling a map of the land, which mostly surrounds Irvine.

The rolling landscape features canyons filled with coastal sage-scrub, grasslands and oak woodlands. One expanse is near the coast, including Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park; the other is in the lower reaches of the Santa Ana Mountains, including the Limestone Canyon and Weir Canyon wilderness areas.

To make the state list, land must be mostly in its natural state and have the biological and geological significance of a state or national park. Each proposal, which may include any combination of public and private land, is put through a peer-reviewed scientific analysis. Landowners must pay for state parks workers to review their application.

“Orange County has what’s equivalent to a national park right here, but very few people are aware of it,” said Dave Raetz, director of public programs for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which operates 50,000 acres of protected parks and wilderness on what once was the Irvine Ranch. “You have millions of people who live within 10 or 20 minutes of here. We’d like them to appreciate the land and get involved.”

I live near the designated area as well and I am within walking distance to other trails and open spaces that are there for the public for hiking and biking.  It’s part of the reason why I chose to move to Aliso Viejo.  I think sometimes people are too busy to appreciate such things, but that’s another issue altogether.

This area is not only just open area though, it’s an eco-system with a wide variety of unique species that are native to the area.   The announcement of this sprawling Natural Landmark was made on Earth Day.

“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.

“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.”

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.


The brilliance of this program is to encourage privately owned land to be set aside for public appreciation, thereby doing away with the idea that it must be developed in order for it to have a value or that it has to be owned by the Government in order to deserve protection.

The California Natural Landmarks Program has been created to designate the state’s natural landmarks to promote private and public maintenance of natural resources for public benefit.



  3 comments for “Orange County is First for California Natural Landmark

  1. Citizen Betty
    April 25, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    From what I read, the “Landmark” designation is as meaningful as a Gucci logo on Bren’s shoe; a fancy naming opportunity that in the end is all about nada but show. Bren would never give up real control. I don’t believe it’s in his nature.

  2. April 25, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Yes, I realize that but I do think it’s a step in the right direction. If it keeps large areas of land open and undeveloped, I don’t really care who owns it. It benefits all of us in some degree.

  3. May 4, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Yes, this designation is a huge step in the right direction however it is simply mitigation so to speak to develop the surrounding land in the Santiago Canyon Watershed. The Santiago Canyon Road area is so beautiful, I agree I hate to see any of it developed. The OC backcountry has some of the most scenic hikes around. For photos and links related to preservation see my site at and also visit my restoration/preservation and take action pages. Stop carving up the hills OC! Keep it wild! Thx!

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