IRVINE WILDLIFE CORRIDOR
"Realizing the long-held dream for the Irvine Wildlife Corridor reflects FivePoint’s stewardship of California’s natural resources and our expansive definition of community."
New wildlife corridor will be a natural connection for native species
The corridor, now under construction at the Orange County Great Park, will help endangered animals and plants survive and prosper
Kedric Francis |March 25, 2018
Scientists, civic leaders, CEOs and environmentalists gathered at the Orange County Great Park recently to celebrate the initial unveiling and ongoing construction of an important link allowing wildlife to travel from the mountains to the coast. When complete, the long-anticipated wildlife corridor will provide a six-mile route between important natural habitats. It will be home to rare species of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants, and improve Orange County’s diverse natural ecosystems, allowing animals to move between the Santa Ana Mountains and the Laguna Greenbelt without interference from humans.
“Orange County has a number of wonderful, big wilderness parks, and they’re all full of interesting critters, plants and stuff,” says Elisabeth Brown, president of Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., who has long been the champion of the corridor project. “We have to keep the wildlife happy, keep them healthy, let them thrive, let them multiply, and repopulate the areas after fires and other challenges.”
For 56 years the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was home to thousands of military personnel, and their families, who proudly served this country. The former base was an important economic engine and vibrant community hub of Orange County. But before the base, and the lima bean fields and Spanish cattle ranches that came before, the valley between the Santa Ana Mountains and the coastal hills near what is now Laguna Beach was home to a grand and diverse ecosystem of abundant plant and animal life, from cougars and coyotes to cactus wren and native chaparral.
Over time, the growth of the base and the cities that surround it separated the species that used to migrate between the 150,000 acres of wild and natural land in the mountains and the 22,000 acres of Laguna Greenbelt protected open space.
As a result, OC’s current wilderness system is analogous to two islands, Brown says. One portion includes the Santa Ana Mountains and Cleveland National Forest. The other coastal portion is not connected to the mountain areas, and is surrounded by the ocean on one side and freeways and homes on the other, resulting in the species on each “island” becoming isolated. That isolation can lead to inbreeding and genetic defects that threaten the future health of the area’s wildlife.
The wildlife corridor is designed to bridge that genetic gap, providing a habitat for smaller wildlife, and a vital pathway for larger animals to meet and mate.
“We’re talking about bobcats and coyotes, foxes and raccoons—they’ll all use it,” Brown says. “The corridor will be so big—about 178 acres of land—that some of the animals will live in the corridor, while others will be passing through. It will be a little microcosm of all the wild areas that we’re connecting,” Brown says.
FivePoint, which is developing the Great Park Neighborhoods near the corridor, is investing $13 million for grading to screen the corridor from future development, as well as planting, landscaping and construction of crossings under roads and other barriers.
“Realizing the long-held dream for the Irvine Wildlife Corridor reflects FivePoint’s stewardship of California’s natural resources and our expansive definition of community,” said FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad. “We are a company that is committed to sustainable land use—whether through ecologically sensitive development, outright preservation or, in this case, the creation of a vital pathway for wildlife and plant species to flourish.”
“What’s exciting and unique about this project is that FivePoint is designing and building a true, natural corridor to promote the migration of wildlife increasingly isolated by urban development,” said Tony Bomkamp, the lead biologist overseeing the construction of the corridor.
“Habitat loss and fragmentation are the two main contributors to continuing declines in biodiversity. When complete, this landscape will create an unfettered path between two of the largest remaining wild spaces in Orange County—giving native species a wider range in which to feed, hunt and mate.”
Or, as Elisabeth Brown summarizes the science and years of work and collaboration that went into the creation of the corridor: “We’re building a safer way for the animals to get down near the beach to party.”
A map showing the planned route of the wildlife corridor through the OC Great Park from the Santa Ana Mountains on the north to the coastal hills near Laguna Beach on the south.