From shining sea at Crystal Cove to majestic Saddleback Mountain, 37,000 acres given national designation.
CRYSTAL COVE — About 37,000 acres of Irvine Ranch land, extending from Crystal Cove to the foothills of Saddleback Mountain, was recognized Tuesday as the country’s newest National Natural Landmark.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Rep. John Campbell — who gave Schwarzenegger the new title of “conservationator” — and others gathered Tuesday morning in a parking lot on a bluff in Crystal Cove State Park, thanking Irvine Co. Chairman Don Bren for his help facilitating the process.
“We’re celebrating more than protecting the environment; we’re also celebrating generosity,” Schwarzenegger said.
The land, which is owned by Orange County, the city of Irvine, the Irvine Co., California State Parks and the Nature Conservancy, was subject to scientific evaluation by 10 geology and biology experts to assess its physical and geological significance. The area received the natural landmark designation because of the presence of fossils — which date back 80 million years — and a diverse animal and plant population that includes some endangered species and others unique to the area.
“My dream is that the Irvine Ranch will be known and celebrated just for what has been preserved and protected here & as the Irvine Ranch is known for the outstanding quality of life communities that have been built here,” said Don Bren in a prepared statement to a crowd of supporters and media.
Bren said Tuesday’s announcement marked his dreams of conserving the land coming true.
The maintenance of the land continues to be the responsibility of the land owners and paid for through the Irvine Co.’s $50-million Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust.
“The $50-million trust is for stewardship and educational programs and things of that nature,” said Dan Young, executive vice president of the Irvine Co.
Not since 1987 has land owned by a public-private partnership been given the designation.
“We hope with this kind of leadership happening, maybe others in our country will be so inspired to nominate land,” Mainella said after the formal ceremony.
Fewer than 600 sites are designated as a National Natural Landmark and the Irvine Ranch land joins places such as Oahu’s Diamond Head, and California’s Torrey Pines State Park, Anza Borrego Desert and Mt. Shasta in its designation.
Along with Crystal Cove, other areas recognized by the designation include Limestone and Fremont canyons, Peters Canyon Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, the open space between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, and Bommer Canyon.
The program was started to encourage land owners to protect natural areas to promote scientific advancement and education in the areas. Nominated sites must undergo an independent scientific evaluation.