Chino Hills State Park — a 14,000-acre urban wilderness park at the juncture of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties — is set to grow by roughly 1,530 acres, more than 10% of the park’s acreage.
After more than a decade of state park growth stagnation, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 266 on Sunday, which expands the park.
The bill requires the California Department of Parks and Recreation to accept the transfer of ridgeline acres along Chino Hills State Park.
“The acquisition of these critical lands, which protect important habitats and ridges, also builds on the east-west connection from the 14,107-acre State Park to the 4,000-acre Prado Basin,” said Claire Schlotterbeck, Executive Director of Hills For Everyone, in a statement.
“We are grateful to our many partners including interim stewards, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and transaction specialists at The Conservation Fund.”
The bill was sponsored by Hills For Everyone, an organization that protects the natural lands in the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor that founded the Chino Hills State Park.
The last time the park gained more land was in 2006.
The newly signed state Senate Bill is the third attempt by state legislators to get the rideline land into the park.
The effort was led by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and Assemblymember Phillip Chen (R-Diamond Bar), along with Hills For Everyone lobbyists, local cities and agencies and conservation groups across California.
Last year, Newsom issued an executive order that set a goal of protecting 30% of California’s lands and coastal waters by 2030.
An estimated eight million acres still need to be protected to reach that goal statewide, according to a news release from Hills for Everyone.
“SB 266 will help California reach its goal,” state Sen. Newman said in a statement. “The expansion of Chino Hills State Park will protect precious open space for our beautiful area, an environment that hosts the most biodiversity in any of the lower 48 states.”
Of the 1,530 acres — which includes three different properties — listed in the bill, 720 have already been protected and are now owned by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, said Melanie Schlotterbeck, the conservation consultant with Hills for Everyone and Claire Schlotterbeck’s daughter.
Currently, team members are working to finalize more transactions and secure funding for the final two properties.
The overall strategy is to have the final two land acquisitions, which are still currently in private ownership, completed by 2024 and then added to the state park.
“All the land is being held on interim by [the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority], and so once all of the 1,530 are acquired, one transaction will take place transferring it over to Chino Hills State Park,” Melanie Schlotterbeck said in a phone interview.
Melanie Schlotterbeck also said there are numerous threatened and endangered animals at the state park, including two bird species: the California Gnatcatcher and Least Bell’s Vireo.
Additionally, the Chino Hills State Park has had a long history of fire devastation.
Most recently, the Blue Ridge fire burned approximately 8,770 acres — or 60% — of the park’s land last October.
For over a 100 years, wildfires have burned through the area where the state park now sits, according to a study done by Hills for Everyone.
The study encompasses fires in the area dating back to 1914 all the way to 2018 and found that during this period there have been around 150 fires. Most of the fires were caused by unknown sources.
“In most instances around Chino Hills State Park, most fires start near roadways,” Melanie Schlotterbeck said. “None of the properties that are being acquired that are under this bill are anywhere near roadways. If they happen to burn, it’s just because they are in the path of the fire, not because the fire started there.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
Correction: A previous story erroneously attributed quotes to Claire Schlotterbeck. It has been updated to reflect Melanie Schlotterbeck provided the quotes from a phone interview.