Northern Reach: Irvine Blvd to Foothills
Believed to be functional, but analysis of fencing and culverts is needed to confirm that wildlife can pass through. Potentially threatened by development proposed on County property.
The Northern Reach of the wildlife corridor begins at the Irvine Boulevard/Magazine Road undercrossing. It is called the Alton Wildlife Movement Corridor where it passes through a County-owned property before reaching a 900-acre parcel of open space currently managed by the FBI. At the northern edge of the parcel, wildlife can reach Limestone-Whiting Wilderness Park by using culverts beneath the 241 Tollroad—and go on to access much larger habitat lands in the Santa Ana Mountains.
The FBI-managed natural area has the highest density of Coastal California Gnatcatchers in Orange County. These birds are federally listed as ‘threatened’, having lost much of their habitat to development. This property was set aside for habitat as part of the 38,000-acre Nature Reserve of Orange County. The wildlife corridor will finally link the northern or ‘central’ and southern or ’coastal’ halves of the Reserve.
- The U.S. government repurposed the 900-acre FBI property (former FAA property) for habitat conservation in 1996, when Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt came to Irvine for the signing of a unique contract (Natural Community Conservation Plan, or NCCP) between the U.S. Government, California, Orange County, The Irvine Company, and other public and private landowners. This agreement created the Nature Reserve of Orange County.
- Despite earlier concerns about the expansion of FBI training facilities on the reserve land, wildlife movement appears to be continuing through the site. The habitat has rebounded since the 2007 Santiago Fire.
- When the 241 Tollroad was constructed, four undercrossings adjacent to the FBI property for water and animals were included in the design. The largest one is at the northwest corner of the FBI property, where Agua Chinon Creek crosses under the tollroad. Monitoring studies have shown that larger carnivore animals use the Agua Chinon undercrossing, and smaller animals probably use the others as well.
- In 2012, the Alton Wildlife Movement Corridor was completed on an approximately 44-acre parcel now owned by the County, as mitigation for extending Alton Parkway through important habitat lands and impacting Borrego Wash.
- In 2014, the County of Orange issued a The West Alton Development Plan Notice of Preparation (NOP) and proposed to build 70-unit multifamily housing development on the 44-acre western County parcel. This project could have negatively impacted the corridor function by introducing light, noise, and human/pet intrusion into the corridor. On February 6, 2020, a California Superior Court ruled against Orange County on their development plans for two projects known as the “100-acre parcel” and the “West Alton parcel.” Both projects are located in Irvine and would have impacted the Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor The Laguna Greenbelt partnered with several other entities in this litigation. The Court ruled that the County of Orange must seek approvasl from the City of Irvine for both projects. The EIRs for both projects can not be used for any future development. Then, on June 23, 2020, the County of Orange rescinded the approvals and all associated documentation for both projects. Because of LGB Inc. and its partners involvement in this legal case, the proposed projects will no longer move forward. Essentially, any future developments will start at square one again to go through the public process of acquiring permits, etc.
- Wildlife movement may be impeded by fencing between the County and FBI properties, as well as debris in the smaller culverts under the 241 Tollroad. An analysis of ground conditions is needed now, as well as monitoring and maintenance in the long term.
- Also in the NOP referenced above, a map designates the ‘East Alton’ County parcel, adjacent to the wildlife corridor and part of the Nature Reserve of Orange County, for agricultural use. The East Alton parcel is designated as ‘critical habitat’ for the coastal California Gnatcatcher by the Federal government, and along with the FBI parcel, contains the highest density of gnatcatchers in Orange County. Further information is needed about the County’s intentions for this property, if any. City of Irvine zoning also designates the parcel as Exclusive Agriculture rather than Preservation.