Discovering the hidden values of Irvine’s open space

Unlike what your parents may have told you, money really does grow on trees. Metaphorically, at least.

Unlike what your parents may have told you, money really does grow on trees. Metaphorically, at least. Forests needn’t be chopped down, nor wetlands razed, to render economic value. Trees help purify the air we breathe. Wetlands filter impurities from water on its way to the sea. Mountains and meadows provide ways for people to exercise without going to a gym. On this earthly ledger, Irvine is privileged to be in the black.

Studying the Earth’s priceless labor

Discovering nature’s hidden value is what UCI earth system science assistant professor Benis Egoh teaches students in her ecosystem services course, which refers to the scientific name for the Earth’s tireless, priceless labor.

“After I introduce the concepts, I tell my students to look around and tell me what services they see,” she says. Each year, the students return to class with photos and lists that include the way various plants help limit soil erosion, filter water, cool the environment and provide habitat for pollinators such as bees.

The Orange County Register has estimated the value of the preserved lands at over $35 billion, a price that still fails to capture the worth of such an intact expanse of land in coastal Southern California.

Irvine’s connection to 57,500 acres of open space offers a free outdoor laboratory where her students studying the natural environment can observe an area that scientists have distinguished as a biodiversity “hot spot” due to its wealth of rare and vulnerable plant and animal species.

“It’s easy for me to teach this class due to the unique location,” says Egoh, who says she was thrilled to get a job in Irvine after reading about the city while working in Cape Town, South Africa. “I’m so glad to be here,” she adds, “because I realize not many U.S. cities have these sorts of resources.”

‘An investment in the future’

Irvine’s open spaces have been conserved and maintained since Irvine Company dedicated 60% of the original Irvine Ranch to permanent preservation, which the Company has called “an investment in the future.”

The Orange County Register has estimated the value of the preserved lands at over $35 billion, a price that still fails to capture the worth of such an intact expanse of land in coastal Southern California.

Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which is tasked with managing much of the preserved lands, sees this value daily. “In terms of its biological and geologic value, it is truly priceless. It’s like having a national park in our backyard.”

You needn’t be an ecologist to appreciate the tremendous, almost inestimable, value of Irvine’s open spaces. Take time to breathe the fresh air while hiking through the oak woodlands of Limestone Canyon or appreciate the water-cleansing bulrushes in the San Joaquin Marsh.

These preserves are hard at work for the betterment of the Earth, mankind … and Irvine.


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