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Crucial Wildlife Corridor connecting the Cleveland National Forest with OC’s coastal habitat takes shape 

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

On Tuesday, an audience of dignitaries, developers, and wildlife lovers, sat near the edge of the proposed Wildlife Corridor as Heritage Fields El Toro, LLC (a partnership of FivePoint Holdings, LLC) and Laguna Greenbelt celebrated its unveiling.

A vital link connecting the Cleveland National Forest to Orange County’s coastal hills, the corridor is a nearly 2.5-mile ribbon of native vegetation that soon will host grey fox, bobcat, coyote, gnatcatchers, and other native species. 

The Irvine Wildlife Corridor is being developed on City land in the Orange County Great Park and is key in preserving the long-term biodiversity of native species and protecting the heritage of coastal California. 

But the ceremony wasn’t just about the connection of these critical areas, it was about the realization of a longtime vision and the collaboration of all those involved. 

In addition to FivePoint and the Laguna Greenbelt, the Wildlife Corridor plan was developed in consultation with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Endangered Habitats League and the Friends of Rivers, Harbors and Parks, with the benefit of peer review by wildlife corridor experts. 

Click on photo for larger image

Photo by Tsutsumida Pictures

(L-R) Irvine Councilmember Christina Shea, FivePoint COO Lynn Jochim, FivePoint Chairman & CEO Emile Haddad, President of Laguna Greenbelt Elisabeth Brown, Ph.D., Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, and Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox

Tuesday’s unveiling follows decades of dedicated work by environmental groups to complete this “missing link” between more than 20,000 acres of coastal chaparral and the Santa Ana Mountains – creating a nearly six-mile long corridor in its entirety. 

And for many, especially Elisabeth Brown, this is the fulfillment of a longtime dream.

“Finally, we can share with other people what we’ve been talking about all these years,” said Elisabeth Brown, president of Laguna Greenbelt, who has championed development of the corridor since the late 1980s and collaborated with FivePoint over the past five years to see it realized. “Bobcats and coyotes, foxes and raccoons – they’ll all use it. Because the corridor is so big, some of them will live in there. Others will be passing through. It will be a microcosm of all the wild areas that we’re connecting.”

Mayor of Irvine, Don Wagner, said, “We’ll be giving back to so many creatures by returning land to them that we’ve been borrowing for 100 years.”

Nearly a quarter-mile across at its widest point, the approximately 175-acre corridor covers land previously used for agriculture and a portion of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro golf course.

Click on photo for larger image

Photo by Harry Huggins, Laguna Greenbelt

Elisabeth Brown, Ph.D., president of Laguna Greenbelt

“Realizing the long-held dream for the Irvine Wildlife Corridor reflects FivePoint’s duty of stewardship for 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 wild spaces in Orange County – giving native species a wider range in which to feed, hunt and mate.” 

Click on photo for larger image

Photo by Tsutsumida Pictures

(L-R) Moderator Steve Churm (FivePoint Chief Communications Officer) with environmental roundtable panelists Jonathan Parfrey (Executive Director of Climate Resolve), Elisabeth Brown, PhD (President of Laguna Greenbelt), Emile Haddad (FivePoint Chairman & CEO), Terry Watt (Statewide Environmental Leader) and Joel Levin (Executive Director of Plug in America),

Wildlife will enter the corridor from the Santa Ana Mountains and travel along the eastern edge of the development, to a wide culvert beneath the I-5 and 1-405 freeways. The corridor then winds its way into Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and the adjacent wilderness parks and preserves.

Access to the corridor will be restricted to only wildlife by protective fencing and berms to minimize the intrusion of light and noise that might frighten wildlife. The project also forms a new channel on what was once flat ground to support seasonal water flows that nurture native habitat.

For more information on Laguna Greenbelt, go to www.lagunagreenbelt.org.

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