Governor Declares Irvine Land as First State Natural Landmark

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Governor Schwarzenegger yesterday declared nearly 40,000 acres of open space in Irvine as the first "California Natural Landmark." KPCC Orange County Reporter Susan Valot says the land is in Bommer Canyon, near UC Irvine and the city's Turtle Rock neighborhood.

Susan Valot: Get beyond the uniform housing developments, and a single-lane road takes you to the Bommer Canyon picnic area. It's surrounded by hillsides covered in bright yellow flowers. Birds flit back and forth in the brushy landscape.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says designating this area as a "California Natural Landmark" is the latest in a list of actions that shows the state can preserve both its economy and the environment.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: 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.

Valot: The Irvine Ranch Land Reserve is the first to be designated under the California Natural Landmarks program. State lawmakers created that program two years ago. Glenn Olson is the executive director of Audubon California.

Glenn Olson: The landmark designation is not regulatory. It's basically a way for private landowners and public landowners to focus the attention on their significant biological or geological resources.

Valot: Olson says while a lot of the land in the Irvine natural landmark is already protected by other designations, this declaration still helps.

Olson: I'm hoping that it makes people aware that this is an extraordinary area; that it's almost as important, say, as Yosemite National Park. And people drive five hours to go to Yosemite. But they've got an area just as important biologically and in terms of its natural beauty, right here in Southern Orange County.

Valot: This is a coastal sage scrub area. Glenn Olson says it's home to 68 different species unique to coastal sage scrub. And oh, he says, there are definitely birds.

Olson: Coming in this morning, I saw a road runner. I heard quail. I heard acorn woodpeckers. There's great birds all around here. The locally special birds are the California gnatcatcher, which nests here and is an endangered species, and the California cactus wren, which is an endangered species.

Valot: But the Audobon Society's Glenn Olson says he still expects battles ahead over California's remaining open space, battles similar to the recent fight over the proposed 241 Toll Road extension in South Orange County. He says California's population is expected to grown from 36 million to 50 million people in the next 15 years. So he says we're going to need better planning to preserve open space. Irvine Mayor Beth Krom says it can be done. Irvine started its preservation of open land 20 years ago, with a citywide initiative.

Beth Krom: People who genuinely are committed to the long-term preservation of our environment recognize that it isn't something you do once and then relax and allow, you know, nature to take its course. People have to be vigilant. People need to take leadership.

Valot: Krom says there will always be efforts to encroach on natural lands. It's a delicate balance. One she says takes leadership on all levels.