Chino Hill State Park is slated to expand by another 720 acres following a series of land acquisitions over the past two years.
Across Orange County, conservationists have seen an increase in government and private funding for more public land and open space preservation, spurred by an executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom to preserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030.
The Hills for Everyone conservation group has been working to increase the state park’s footprint for more than 40 years and helped with recent “must have” acquisitions including a 320-acre purchase that closed escrow last Tuesday, according to a news release.
A regional public land agency, called the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, bought the 320-acre property for $2.56 million and an 80-acre property in June for $600,000. The agency is slated to temporarily manage the two properties along with another 320-acre purchase from last June until they’re added to Chino Hills State Park.
A similar land acquisition effort is underway to preserve Banning Ranch in Newport Beach, led by local conservation groups, who are trying to raise $97 million by early next year.
California’s Wildlife Conservation Board granted $3.16 million in May to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to purchase the properties. Money came from a fund aimed at consevio deer and mountain lion habitats.
Hundreds of species of animals reside in the grasslands, sage scrubs and other vital habitats of the Puente-Chino Wildlife corridor which includes the acquisitions and the state park.
Preserving open space and reconnecting similar and diverse habitats along this wildlife corridor makes it easier for animals to mate, forage, migrate, nest and escape catastrophes, said Melanie Schlotterbeck with Hills for Everyone.
These acquisitions not only protect important habitats, but also build on east-west connections between the State Park and Prado Wetlands, Schlotterbeck said.
Building connections is especially important during wildfires when animals need to move between protected areas quickly, read the news release.
Half of the state park — including the newly acquired properties — burned in the 2020 Blueridge Fire, which was said to be the result of a house fire.
Preserving this property from development helps reduce the risk of human-caused fires, Schlotterbeck said.
“Hillside land is vulnerable to fires and not a good place to put houses. They themselves become fuel in a wildfire and there are many evacuation challenges that ensue,” said Brea Council member Glenn Parker in an interview about the acquisitions last month.
Along with preserving nature, protecting these ridgeline properties from residential or commercial development preserves the views from the popular Lower Aliso Canyon Outlook, Schlotterbeck said.
“It’s a relief to know that those lands are now off the table in the future for any potential development,” she said in a phone interview.
Chino Hills State Park straddles more than 14,000 acres of land between Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.
Hills for Everyone plans to continue working with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and national group, The Conservation Fund, to conserve another 800 acres as protected parkland in the near future.