Since 2005, Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) has worked to restore and preserve the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and native wildlands in Orange County, while helping hundreds of thousands of people connect with nature. Over the past 15 years, IRC’s expert staff, volunteers and land partners have been instrumental in helping the Conservancy fulfill its mission to protect, restore, enhance, and connect people to the biological and geological treasures in Orange County.
“IRC is thrilled to be celebrating our 15th year of caring for the land and involving the community in protecting these special places,” said Michael O’Connell, President & CEO. “We are beyond grateful to our many partners, our expert staff and hundreds of volunteers. Together, we have made remarkable accomplishments and will continue to work together to ensure these spectacular lands remain healthy and are enjoyed for future generations.”
In order to fulfill the mission of protecting local wildlands, Irvine Ranch Conservancy focuses on six core programs of work: habitat restoration and enhancement, fire prevention, community engagement and education, invasive species control, plant materials, and scientific monitoring and research. As a celebration of the accomplishments made through these programs, IRC staff has highlighted their successes over the past 15 years.
- The habitat restoration and enhancement program is the cornerstone of IRC’s conservation work. In the last 15 years, this program has enhanced or restored 2,000 acres of land previously degraded by intensive ranching and other land uses.
- Wildfire events in Orange County have increased in both frequency and severity in recent years, and too frequent wildfire has become the most destructive threat to the health of wildlands. Since 2007, Fire Watch has worked to reduce catastrophic wildfires through education, deterrence, and early reporting. Today, the program has over 360 volunteers who have given more than 50,000 hours to keeping local communities and wildlands safe.
- Through IRC’s community engagement and education program, and resources such as LetsGoOutside.org, visitors to the Landmarks have experienced diverse, nature-oriented recreational activities and informal learning opportunities for 15 years. To help foster a lifelong commitment to protect native wildlands, IRC and its partners have offered nearly 22,000 public access programs, bringing more than 200,000 people to the land with trained naturalists and volunteers.
- Invasive plants, animals and insects are extremely harmful to native habitats and can degrade ecosystems, crowd out native plants and wildlife, and threaten the biodiversity of the landscape. IRC’s invasive species control program removes harmful species using a variety of innovative methods and practices. This program has eliminated more than 1,500,000 invasive plants from Orange County wildlands in the last 15 years.
- To meet the growing demand for native plants on the Landmarks, in 2009 IRC established a 14-acre Native Seed Farm on an old agricultural field in North Irvine. Starting with just 12 species, IRC staff and hundreds of community volunteers now cultivate and harvest over 50 native species - some rare - that are used for restoration projects throughout Orange County. The plant materials program produces more than a half ton of seed each year and has planted more than 75,000 native plants.
- Among the tools IRC uses is a sophisticated network of over 50 heat- and motion-triggered cameras installed throughout the landscape. These camera “traps” capture images of wildlife that help partners and scientists understand wildlife response to seasonal changes, drought, human activity, and the impacts of wildfire. With the help of volunteers, millions of photos have been processed from these cameras since 2007 and more than 800,000 images have been compiled into a long-term database.
“IRC staff, volunteers and partners have accomplished more than we ever imagined in the last 15 years,” said O’Connell. “We will continue to build on these achievements to ensure these extraordinary lands remain healthy and resilient for generations.”
IRC is grateful to its wonderful staff, volunteers and partners, including OC Parks, City of Irvine, City of Newport Beach, OCTA, OCFA and OC Waste & Recycling, for dedicating their time to preserving the beautiful natural resources found in Orange County.