Overall Rating Platinum - expired
Overall Score 86.82
Liaison Richard Demerjian
Submission Date March 28, 2018
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

University of California, Irvine
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Richard Demerjian
Assistant Vice Chancellor
Office of Environmental Planning and Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution own or manage land that includes or is adjacent to legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance?:

A brief description of the legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance:

UC Irvine manages a total of 721 acres of University-owned protected natural areas through a cooperative partnership between UCI’s Office of Environmental Planning and Sustainability and UCI-Nature (Networked Assets to Understand Resilience in the Environment) – which represent an intersection of academic and operations components of the University. UCI sustains a broad range of sensitive species and habitats, including multiple threatened and endangered species in areas set aside in perpetuity.

In particular, UCI provided leadership in the establishment of the first coupled Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) program and Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) reserve in the U.S., the Nature Reserve of Orange County (www.occonservation.org). The Reserve permanently protects more than 38,000 acres of regionally important habitat, including 135 acres on the UCI campus. The Reserve provides long-term preservation and management for sensitive species and their critical habitats, including the protection of 33 state and federally recognized threatened and endangered species. The Reserve is managed by the Natural Communities Coalition (NCC), a 19-member non-profit consisting of private landowners, public agencies, state and federal wildlife agencies, and a public research university (UCI). The 20-year-old NCCP Reserve has served as a national model for collaboration for the protection, management, and restoration of critical habitats. UCI continues to provide leadership in stewardship, operations, and science in the ongoing management of this expansive reserve, holding a place on the Board of Directors, the executive committee, and the technical advisory committee. UCI contributes to the monitoring and adaptive management activities, aligns basic research with local biodiversity needs, and provides capacity to the many short-term projects required to successfully conserve biological diversity in open-space interspersed as a mosaic with urban lands containing > 5 million people. During this period UCI has been instrumental in leading numerous Natural Community Coalition habitat restoration projects, biological monitoring efforts, and biodiversity research programs.

In recent years, UCI has led to the establishment of the Borrego Stewardship Council (see below for land details), which is a community-based leadership group consisting of the major stakeholders in the Borrego Springs Valley, where UCI operates a field research station in collaboration with the largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The Council is the principal public voice and sounding group for conservation and sustainability-related topics for a location that is highly dependent on biological diversity to maintain a localized economy, which is part of UNESCO’s Mojave and Colorado Desert Biosphere Reserve. The Council provides comment and input to the governing framework for conservation in the Borrego region, which occurs through the East County Multiple Species Conservation Program Plan (out of San Diego County).

Parcel Details
• The 135-acre UCI NCCP reserve areas (which includes the 62-acre UCI Ecological Preserve) on the UCI main campus protects and manages critical upland habitat for many threatened and sensitive species as part of the regional NCCP Reserve. The Preserve consists of coastal sage scrub, cactus scrub and grassland habitats, and it currently sustains multiple nesting pairs of the federally listed as threatened California gnatcatcher and the state-recognized sensitive species, coastal cactus wren. In addition, there are a number of sensitive plant species, such as Dudleya multicaulis, which have various state and federal designations that are dependent upon this habitat type.
• The 202-acre UC Natural Reserve System’s San Joaquin Marsh Reserve is embraced by the UCI main and north campus lands and includes a variety of wetland habitats. It represents one of the few remaining remnants of marsh habitat remaining in Orange County. Along the Pacific Flyway, the marsh is a stopping place for more than 100 migratory bird species, and it sustains an equivalent number of resident species. The marsh provides habitat for numerous sensitive species including the Least Bell’s Vireo (endangered; nesting), California gnatcatcher (threatened; nesting), Ridgway’s rail (endangered; visitation and occasional nesting), the California Least Tern (endangered), and it serves as an important educational and research resource for the University. The Marsh Reserve supports the largest natural population of the Pacific pond turtle, a sensitive species with more than 200 individuals inhabiting the site.
• The Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center is a 78-acre site contiguous with ~400,000 acres of designated wilderness and protected lands consisting of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in northern San Diego County. Located within the Sonoran Desert, the site contains a variety of plant and animal species native to the region and is home to a wealth of geologic, hydrologic, and paleonologic resources of world-wide renown. These lands are also part of the larger UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve System.
• The 306-acre Burns Pinon Ridge Reserve is located in the western Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Habitats within the reserve include pinon-juniper woodland, Joshua tree woodland, montane chaparral, desert wash, and a freshwater seep.

Across all of these sites, and in the adjacent conservation lands (either city, county, state or federal lands), UCI provides research capacity through the Center for Environmental Biology, where staff maintain relationships with local land managers that allows for easy faculty integration with conservation needs on the ground. As such, UCI works collaboratively with State Parks, U.S. and California Fish and Wildlife, Orange County Parks, The Nature Conservancy, and non-profit land management organizations, such as the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in the protection and monitoring of habitat.

The UCI Ecological Reserve is legally protected under state and federal law as part of the regional NCCP/HCP reserve program. The UCI Reserve and other areas of the NCCP/HCP reserve provide critical habitat to support regional biodiversity and conservation of multiple legally protected species. These lands are held in conservation status in perpetuity, with financial resources committed from multiple entities to maintain their status into the foreseeable future.

The UC San Joaquin Marsh Reserve is a state and federally protected wetland area sustaining an important regional wetland habitat. The Burns and the Anza Reserves both provide a protected research and teaching template for colleges and universities throughout the state. Anza is managed in partnership with the state park, where adjacent lands are held in wilderness status.

Has the institution conducted an assessment or assessments to identify endangered and vulnerable species (including migratory species) with habitats on institution-owned or –managed land?:

Has the institution conducted an assessment or assessments to identify environmentally sensitive areas on institution-owned or –managed land?:

The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or environmentally sensitive areas (including most recent year assessed) and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:

Each of these parcels were initially assessed through state and federal mechanisms for designating sensitive habitat (see NCCP and HCP description above), in collaboration with local experts on specific species, habitat, and policy. UCI is implementing the monitoring and assessment plan for the Nature Reserve of Orange County, inclusive of the on-campus parcel and the entire Reserve. This includes repeated site visits, detailed community assessment, interactions with consultants on specific monitoring of key species, integration of new technologies, such as remote sensing and genetic techniques in the environment, and synthesis exercises through meetings and modeling. Our goal as an institution is to take our specific stewardship mission and leverage it to have a regional impact on adjacent habitat, collaborating extensively with our regional partners. Over the last 20 years, this has included multiple campuswide assessments of environmentally sensitive habitat and numerous efforts to monitor endangered and sensitive species in conjunction with state and federal agencies.

During the academic year of 2014/15 UCI participated in the monitoring of multiple protected species including California Gnatcatcher and Coastal Cactus Wren, Least Bell’s Vireo, and the Pacific Pond Turtle. UCI actively monitors more than 45 different locations throughout the Reserve, describing annual changes in habitat. UCI maintains an experimental apparatus to evaluate the effects of climate change on the principle habitat of concern. UCI has compiled extensive databases on sensitive species distributions and population dynamics, most recently for more than 60 species of rare plant taxa.

A brief description of identified species, habitats and/or environmentally sensitive areas:

The UCI Reserve areas contain a range of sensitive habitat types including coastal sage scrub, cactus scrub, California grassland/prairie, maritime scrub, wetlands, and riparian woodland.

These preserved areas provide critical habitat for many sensitive species including California gnatcatcher, coastal cactus wren, Least Bell’s Vireo, and the Pacific pond turtle; not to mention the more than 60 species of plants of concern in the region.

The coastal sage scrub habitats are broadly recognized to support an extremely high level of species diversity and endemism (species that occur in no other habitat). For example, it has the highest diversity of native bees in the U.S. Sensitive, endemic species include the Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino), Hermes copper butterfly (Lycaena hermes), San Diego thorn mint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia), San Diego ambrosia (Ambrosia pumila), San Diego barrel cactus (Ferocactus viridescens), San Diego pocket mouse (Perognathus fallax), Merriam kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami), Stephens kangaroo rat (Dipodomys stephensi), red-diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber), San Diego banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus abbotti), San Diego horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum blainvillei), California gnatcatcher (Polioptila California), and the coastal populations of the cactus wren (Campylorhyncus brunneicapillus). Currently, only 15% of the original distribution of coastal sage scrub habitat remains.

A brief description of plans or programs in place to protect or positively affect identified species, habitats and/or environmentally sensitive areas:

The UCI Ecological Preserve is managed as part of California’s Natural Communities Conservation Planning (NCCP) program and the Habitat Conservation Planning (HCP) program operated through California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish & Wildlife. The designated reserve is managed cooperatively with the Natural Communities Coalition (described above). The NCCP/HCP provides the overall strategy, management policies, monitoring and reporting of habitat and species protection within enrolled habitats, including the UCI Ecological Preserve, a biological corridor along the San Joaquin Transportation Corridor and a UCI –owned portion of San Diego Creek and a former landfill on UCI’s North Campus.

The Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center is managed in a similar framework, operating through the East County Multiple Species Conservation Program Plan, of which the County of San Diego is the leading entity.

The UC Natural Reserve System’s mission statement guides the Marsh, Burns, and Anza Reserves, which is “The mission of the Natural Reserve System is to contribute to the understanding and wise stewardship of the Earth and its natural systems by supporting university-level teaching, research, and public service at protected natural areas throughout California.”

UCI also manages 586 acres of protected natural areas off campus that are a part of the University of California Natural Reserve System. The 202-acre San Joaquin Marsh Reserve is adjacent to campus and is one of the last remnant wetlands of Orange County. UCI also manages two habitat areas outside Orange County: the 306-acre Burns Pinon Ridge Reserve in San Bernardino County and the 78-acre Steele/Burnand Anza Borrego Desert Research Center in San Diego County. See https://ucnrs.org/by-campus/

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

Additional information on UCI biodiversity and natural area preservation is available at:


This summary of UCI Biodiversity was compiled by Travis Huxman Ph.D., Peter Bowler Ph.D., Kailen Mooney Ph.D., and Richard Demerjian

Additional information on UCI biodiversity and natural area preservation is available at:


This summary of UCI Biodiversity was compiled by Travis Huxman Ph.D., Peter Bowler Ph.D., Kailen Mooney Ph.D., and Richard Demerjian

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.