Irvine Ranch Gains State Landmark Status

Most of the remaining Irvine Ranch became California’s first Natural Landmark on Tuesday, a new designation announced by the governor during an Earth Day celebration amid the ranch’s rolling, brush-covered hills.

“This is wonderful and I can guarantee you, this is something that would not happen anywhere else,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the group of students, scientists, land managers and wildlife agency officials.

The nearly 40,000-acre designation, he said, is “right here in the middle of one of the nation’s most vibrant and economically important urban areas.”

The state landmark status, dreamed up by Assemblyman George A. Plescia, R-San Diego, after a similar expanse of the ranch was declared a National Natural Landmark in 2006, is meant to recognize the state’s most spectacular habitat and geology – and encourage other landowners to preserve wild land.

Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren told the group that 50,000 acres, more than half of the historic Irvine Ranch, has been set aside for preservation.

“One of my dreams has been for the Irvine Ranch to be known and celebrated for what’s been preserved and protected here, as well as for its outstanding communities that have been created here,” Bren told the group.

Under the state’s criteria, which target biological richness and unusual geologic formations, about 39,000 acres qualified for landmark status.

The ranch is home to scrubland, oak woodlands and streamside corridors lined with massive sycamores. A variety of rare and endangered species inhabit the ranch land, managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

Some of the land, though once owned by the Irvine Co., is now owned by a variety of agencies, including Orange County, Irvine, Laguna Beach and state parks.

Governor’s remarks:

It is wonderful to be here today and I want to thank Donald Bren for inviting me to come here today, especially to be here today on Earth Day.  Earth Day is a very special day.  What makes this day special is because all of a sudden the spotlight goes on that issue of the environment.  And not just in this state or in this country, but I checked it out last night at 12 o’clock, at midnight.  I wanted to know how many countries are really celebrating Earth Day — it’s 185 countries around the globe.

So it just shows you, the whole world is celebrating this special day and putting the spotlight on that issue of fighting global warming, cleaning up our environment, cleaning our water, our air and conservation — if it is conservation of energy and water and all of those kinds of issues.  And children are learning how they can participate, so I think it is really terrific.  And it gives us also an opportunity here to shine the spotlight on the great accomplishments and the great achievements that we have made here in California.

So today I’m very proud to announce the first-ever California natural landmark here at Irvine Ranch.  This is wonderful news and I can guarantee you, this is something that would not happen anywhere else.  Only in California can you see a 40,000 acre — now, when I walked up this road here and through the flowers, Donald corrected me and said, “It’s 50,000 acres; don’t say 40.”  So I want you to know, you will hear these various different numbers; but I stick with what Donald says since it’s his place.  (Laughter)  So, it’s 50,000 acres of natural landmark right here in the middle of one of the nation’s most vibrant and economically important urban areas.

Now, it is the latest, I would say, accomplishment in the Irvine Company’s proud history of preserving land for future generations.  Today’s action just shows what can be accomplished when individuals that are visionaries, that are generous and that are passionate and all levels of government cooperate and work together.  This is exactly why Earth Day is so very special here in California.  Our level of commitment, of course, for preservation and innovation is unmatched.

And when I think back just to 2003 when I talked about that we can preserve both the economy and the environment, there were people that didn’t believe that we can do that.  But I think we have proven to them that we can do it, because in these last four years alone California has accomplished a lot.

We have put aside 25 million acres of pristine land for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.  We passed the Ocean Action Plan, the Marine Life Protection Act, the Million Solar Roof Initiative, the Green Building Initiative to make our government buildings more energy efficient by the year 2015.  And, of course, our historic law, AB 32, to make a commitment to roll back our greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2020 and then an additional 80 percent by the year 2050.  And then a year later we created the world’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

But as we all know, the reality is that Earth Day is not just about what we have accomplished and what we are accomplishing right now, but it’s also about the future.  And big things are happening that will make that future brighter for all of us.  Last Friday, for instance, I spoke at the Governors Conference on Climate Change at Yale University.

This event was inspired by the 100th anniversary of a historic meeting called by President Teddy Roosevelt that gave birth to the modern conservation movement.  The president was alarmed then already at the country’s rapid and reckless depletion of natural resources, so he summoned a group of governors to the White House.  The meeting also led to the creation of our national parks system.

At Yale I joined 17 other states in signing a declaration calling on the next president and the next Congress to make the environment and climate change the top of their priorities.  But it’s not just states that are taking action.  There’s great action all over the country; more than 700 U.S. mayors have joined together in a climate protection agreement and 32 of the largest and most influential companies in America and environmental groups have formed an alliance to call for greenhouse gas reductions and oil companies are now pouring billions and billions of dollars into renewable energy.

And a big boost of course will be coming after the election, no matter whether it’s McCain, Obama, or Clinton.  They all are good when it comes to the environment.  The environmental movement is sweeping the nation from Main Street to Wall Street and I know for sure it will make its way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, our work is paying off and I’m confident that our momentum will grow stronger and stronger with every passing day because we are more committed than ever before.  So thank you very much and now let’s create some action with California’s new natural landmark.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

Pat Brennan, Orange County Register