A unique preservation agreement between Orange County’s largest landowner and developer, the Irvine Co., and the Nature Conservancy, one of the nation’s largest private conservation organizations, is not only worthy of praise. It is worthy of emulation. The partnership should help preserve and protect huge tracts of open space and provides a model for what could be done elsewhere.
Under terms of the agreement, the Nature Conservancy will manage 17,000 acres of undeveloped Irvine Co. parcels for two years, with the developer paying the estimated cost of about $440,000. In addition, the 645,000-member conservation group plans to develop specific management plans for the parcels that can be used by local governments that are expected to eventually take possession of the lands. The Irvine Co. hopes to “bank” environmental mitigation credits with the local governments to be used in return for the right to develop other properties.
The agreement with the Irvine Co. is unusual because it appears to be the first time the Nature Conservancy has agreed to manage privately owned land. The 41-year-old nonprofit group normally purchases environmentally important lands that are endangered.
The Nature Conservancy began its work with the Irvine Co. on a modest scale by agreeing to provide an in-depth assessment of the firm’s lands and make recommendations on how they could best be preserved. That led to a detailed recommendation on how to manage the lands, and, finally, an agreement that the conservation group would be the one to do the managing for at least two years. Included will be acreage in Weir, Gypsum and Limestone canyons in northern areas and Emerald and Boat canyons in southern areas.
Public access could begin as early as next year. That’s when Orange County residents can truly begin to appreciate the importance of this unprecedented agreement.