A view from Lower Aliso Overlook in Chino Hills State Park where ridgelines on the left, if developed, would greatly impact Park management and destroy the viewshed, but were instead protected this week. Credit: Hills For Everyone

More than 20 years ago park advocate Jean Watt went from living room to living room collecting acquisition ideas from conservation focused non-profit leaders to create a county-wide Green Vision Map.  At its core the Green Vision Map is a tool that visualizes the protected and unprotected natural lands and is a wish list for conservation acquisitions. At the time, a coalition was assembled to support the Map as everyone realized a united voice was stronger than individual voices. Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks (FHBP) has updated this digital map annually since 1999 to quantify potential conservation opportunities.

The Green Vision Map documents the protected lands in and around Orange County and the wish list of properties the coalition hopes are preserved through the 30×30 campaign. Credit: Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks

Fast forward to 2021 and that same Green Vision Map is now a pivotal tool as the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) aims to fulfill Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-82-20. This Executive Order, known as the 30×30 effort, is a campaign to protect 30% of California’s lands and coastal waters by 2030. Early math indicates we need to conserve about eight million acres in the next nine years to make that vision a reality.

While CNRA advances its 30×30 research and establishes the framework to meet this goal, long-time conservation partners FHBP and Hills For Everyone (HFE) collaborated to identify and map for submission to the state more than 275 properties totaling more than 30,000 acres. HFE, Founders of Chino Hills State Park, worked with the Green Vision Map database to document opportunities in and around Orange County potentially available for conservation, while FHBP garnered the support from the conservation community to submit the list.

The Green Vision Map was essentially broken down into regions: Coastal, Urban, Puente-Chino Hills, Santa Ana River, and Foothills. Because plants and animals typically reside in and travel on contiguous habitat, the localized maps included land in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego Counties. As acquisitions occur on adjoining lands—those too benefit Orange County’s parks and preserves.

Three thousand acres straddle the “Missing Middle” of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor and many conservation groups hope to acquire this land for conservation purposes. Credit: Hills For Everyone

The 30×30 campaign offers an opportunity for landowners to choose conservation as the final future outcome of their property. All but two properties included in the map are over 15 acres, and all properties are habitat lands that, if acquired, will increase the protected lands inventory in and around Orange County.

A letter along with 18 localized maps of potentially available properties were sent to CNRA this week. The properties include many advantages, including their alignment with the 30×30 goals and other important community and climate benefits. Some of the benefits of safeguarding these lands include:

Areas along Orange County’s coast could be included in the State’s Marine Protected Areas. Credit: Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks

Thirty-one organizations signed on to this CNRA letter and the associated maps because we collectively recognize that Orange County has considerable potential to contribute to the 30×30 efforts. That said, we’ve faced significant barriers in terms of conservation in the past. There has been an historic inequity in the distribution of available statewide conservation funds. Orange County also lacks a regionally-focused state-charted conservancy. And, many more conservation projects occur north of Bakersfield than south of it.

As CNRA staff begin to assemble conservation opportunities throughout the state, we hope the State will look toward the Green Vision Map and Coalition for collective coordination. Each signatory to the letter pledges to CNRA that if conservation dollars are made available to permanently protect these vitally important landscapes in and around Orange County, we will be reliable on-the-ground partners to achieve conservation successes. We have not been deterred by the struggles—they only make us more persistent.

Melanie Schlotterbeck is a consultant for both Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks—a regional conservation non-profit focused on the intersection of parks, land use, and transportation—as well as Hills For Everyone, a regional non-profit working to connect, protect, and restore the entire Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor.

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