Why a Wildlife Corridor?

California Cactus Wrens. Photo: RAHamilton

California Cactus Wrens. Photo: RAHamilton

A wildlife corridor allows animals and plants to move between habitat areas, which benefits wildlife for many reasons. Larger animals—like our grey fox, bobcat, and coyote—need space to hunt. In areas too small, their numbers fall, and they die out. Animals and birds must also move to find unrelated mates. To protect the health of Orange County wildlife and plants, our coast and foothills wildlands must be connected. The wildlife corridor will be habitat for smaller wildlife, and a vital pathway for larger ones.

The Laguna coast wilderness has been isolated from other wildlands for at least two decades. Federal biologists have found increasing rates of a debilitating disease in coastal bobcats that might signal genetic weakness. Cactus wren populations hard hit by the 1993 wildfires have become genetically different from their relatives in Orange County and San Diego. The remaining birds are inbreeding, and nestling survival rate is low.

The Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor is an audacious, cutting-edge endeavor, but it must succeed. The stakes for 22,000 acres of coastal wildlands are very high.

The Coast to Cleveland Connection

The Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor is a partially-completed linkage between Orange County’s coastal wilderness and the Santa Ana Mountains. It is envisioned as a wide, winding strip of native vegetation that roughly follows sections of San Diego, Serrano and Borrego Creeks. This 6-mile corridor will link the 22,000 acres of protected natural lands in the Laguna coast to the more than 150,000 acres of wilderness around the Santa Ana Mountains, including Cleveland National Forest, Whiting Ranch, and Limestone Canyon.

3-reaches-overview-map

The map above shows the corridor’s general path, as well as various properties along it. Fringes of the corridor’s “destination” wilderness areas to the north and south are shown in green at the top and bottom of the map.

The corridor can be understood as three reaches, or segments:

  • Northern Reach: Shown in lighter green on the map, the properties north of Irvine Boulevard consist of the 900-acre El Toro Habitat Preserve on land managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and a triangular County property containing the Alton wildlife movement corridor that connects under Irvine Blvd to the central reach.
  • Central Reach: The central reach of the corridor roughly follows the east side of the Great Park Neighborhoods and two creeks (Borrego and Serrano). In the map, the Great Park is illustrated in light orange, and future development is yellow. This reach of the corridor is on deed-restricted land owned by the City of Irvine and will be constructed by Five Point Communities.
  • Southern Reach: South of a difficult crossing under the enormous I-5 freeway, the southern reach of the corridor follows existing green channels through The Irvine Company’s Spectrum 5 research park in Irvine. It continues coastward along Needlegrass Creek (Veeh Creek) and ultimately enters the protected parklands of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Challenges Ahead

Deer crossing road

Photo: Trude Hurd

Design and engineering solutions are needed along the corridor to make sure wildlife can pass under, over, into and out of several obstacles: roadways, creek channels, and railroad tracks. The corridor also needs to be properly buffered from development along its flanks: too much noise or light, and any intrusion of people and their pets, will make wild animals and birds less likely to use the corridor.

The corridor coalition is working to meet these challenges, while also seeking support for additional scientific studies to determine how wildlife are using the corridor and to learn where improvements may be needed.