Steven St. Clair, principal of Newport Beach-based St. ClairCo., had entitlements to build up to 1,550 upscale homes and somecommercial space on the environmentally sensitive patch of rusticCoal Canyon. The rugged land is the last link for mountain lionsand other wild animals to travel between Cleveland National Forestand Chino Hills, so building on the parcel could have spelled theirdoom.

St. Clair, an avid hiker and mountain-biker, says he didn't knowabout the parcel's ecological importance when he and some partnersbought the land in 1997. But he changed his mind about developingthe parcel after talking with conservationists and governmentwildlife agencies.

Though the property was appraised at $50 million last year, St.Clair agreed to accept $40 million because that's all thatenvironmental groups could raise from donors and governmentagencies. By officially turning the property over to state parksofficials on Tuesday, St. Clair also forgoes an estimated $350million he originally expected to make in lot sales to merchantbuilders.

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