History

A Brief History of the Ecological Preserve

The UCI Ecological Preserve was once the gathering grounds of American Indians—the Acjachemen and Tongva. Later it became part of Rancho San Joaquin, a Mexican land grant awarded to José Antonio Andres Sepúlveda in 1837. Sepulveda sold the land to James Irvine and his partners in 1864. Eventually becoming part of the Irvine Ranch, it served as grazing land for more than 100 years. In 1965, the land changed hands again, becoming part of the University of California, Irvine. Cattle continued to graze on it, providing ongoing disturbance that impacted the native biological community. By the time the land was designated an Ecological Preserve in 1989, many non-native invasive species, including artichoke thistle, black mustard, and Eurasian grasses, had taken hold in between large tracts of cacti. The cattle had either eaten or trampled the sagebrush and buckwheat. Efforts today focus on restoring native plants and associated wildlife.

The fire history of the Preserve is unknown – the oldest photographs available do not reveal indications of a fire on the site. The construction of University Hills and the Irvine Research Park isolated the Preserve and habitat was reduced to its current size. Details of grazing history are not known – particularly the intensity of grazing, but it included both sheep and cattle at different points in history. While cattle will plow down most Coastal Sage Scrub plants, they dislike prickly pear cactus. When the cattle were removed in the 1980s, cacti dominated the landscape. Work began to reverse that trend and share surplus cuttings with other Preserves that had lost their cacti to fire.

Timeline of significant land uses:

1970’s
Courses such as Field Botany and the EEB (Ecology) component of Biology CORE used the site for teaching.
An environmental education program (the Cooperative Outdoor Program) began giving public tours
First collection of plants for IRVC undertaken and insects for the Museum of Systematic Biology
Several EEB dissertation projects undertaken

1980’s
End of grazing on the Preserve – the end of “UC Bovine”

1989
First UCI Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). A “grandfathered” extension of California Avenue through the Preserve was part of this LRDP

1990s
San Joaquin Corridor was installed – opened in 1996 – the Ecological Preserve formally designated a Preserve rather than Reserve

1996
UCI Open Space Committee created
UCI enrolled in the Natural Communities Conservation Program [NCCP]/Nature Reserve of Orange County (now the Natural Community Coalition)
various other UCI lands are also enrolled in the NCCP- the “biological corridor” along the edge of the 73 toll road; the landfill adjacent the San Joaquin Marsh, and a section of San Diego Creek adjacent to the landfill. These lands form part of the coastal reserve of orange county which is set aside for as open space to be managed for wildlife, specifically target species of the Habitat Conservation Plan.
Two vernal pools were established on the Preserve as well

2007
Second UCI LRDP – California Avenue expansion through the Ecological Preserve dropped

2016
Refocus on stewardship: entrance and interpretive signage established and inappropriate were trails closed.

2018
Monthly bird surveys established in partnership with Sea and Sage Audubon. Temporary overlook fencing established in partnership with Eagle scouts to limit trampling of sensitive vegetation. Vegetation monitoring transects established

2019-Today
Invasive plant and sensitive species management continue, experimental restorations like the Wildfire Safety and Healthy Habitats fuel modification zone demonstration project and droughtnet experiment exploring the impact of precipitation and seed source on restoration success in a changing climate are established. A white-tailed kite study is ongoing to document nesting attempts and successes, as well as habitat needs of this species.