If you happened to be passing by Bommer Meadow in the month of May, you might have noticed something unexpected – a herd of goats! The goats were assisting with the beginning stages of a multi-year restoration project being conducted by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in partnership with the City of Irvine in Bommer Meadow, which was historically part of a working cattle camp. Livestock grazing and the introduction of non-native plants and weeds degraded the natural habitat over time, reducing available food, water and shelter for native plants and wildlife. Invasive plants do not provide the resources necessary to support healthy native wildlife populations, and they also increase wildfire risk, so it is crucial to restore degraded areas with native vegetation to provide wildlife with a functioning habitat and to reduce wildfire.
The Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are home to a variety of natural habitats and native plant species. These habitats can be disrupted by invasive plants and weeds that are harmful to the native flora of the lands. Restoring native habitat is an important goal of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, but before native plants can be re-introduced to a specific area, non-native plants must be removed.
Irvine Ranch Conservancy has partnered with the City of Irvine to implement a multi-year habitat restoration project in Bommer Canyon. The process will begin with a little help from nature’s mowers – goats! Unlike other habitat restoration methods, this experimental activity utilizes a controlled method of livestock grazing to remove non-native plants, weeds, and thatch that have degraded the natural habitat over time. Goats can access certain areas mowers can’t such as steep slopes or rocky areas and are being used as an experiment to see how effective they can be in other situations. With their seemingly endless appetites, goats graze down to the soil, which will allow Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff to plant native seeds and plants at the cleared site and restore the area to its native habitat. The end goal of the project is to return Bommer Canyon to a healthy, lush mix of native grasslands and coastal sage scrub – a rare habitat found only in Southern California.
On October 9, 2017, a fire broke out in the area around Gypsum Canyon Road near the 91 Freeway. It quickly spread, burning thousands of acres within the northern portion of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, including all of Weir and Blind Canyons, and portions of Fremont Canyon. While much of the wildlife in the area was quick to recover, loss of habitat remains an issue. The fire burned through numerous patches of prickly pear cactus, key habitat for the endangered Cactus Wren. Oak woodlands were also impacted, although many of the larger more mature oak trees were able to survive. However, recovery efforts are underway, and there is strong reason to believe that with time the area will recover.
“Most of the oak trees started showing signs of new growth soon after the fire, and much of the ground vegetation is back,” said Irvine Ranch Conservancy Project Manager Nathan Gregory, Ph. D. “It could take a few years for the shrub coverage to return to its status before the fire, and decades for oak trees to grow.”
Connect with the lands by joining a stewardship program on the open spaces
Earth Day is quickly approaching and 2018 is a special year on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. This upcoming Earth Day marks the 10th anniversary of nearly 40,000 acres of open spaces being designated as the first-ever California Natural Landmark. Nature lovers can find several opportunities to connect with the land by registering for a stewardship program in honor of Earth Day and the 10th anniversary of the state landmark designation during the month of April and throughout the year.
Ensure butterflies thrive on the Landmarks by participating in stewardship programs
As we approach March and new blooms start to sprout on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visitors are more likely to spot one of nature’s most fascinating insects, the butterfly. Known for their metamorphosis, butterflies inspire awe and wonder among park visitors. By joining stewardship programs to help increase the native plant population, volunteers can do their part to ensure butterflies prosper on the Landmarks this spring.
Be a helping hand in the fight against invasive weeds by registering for a program on the open spaces
As the weather warms and spring approaches, Orange County residents can look forward to spotting colorful wildflowers across the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. However, not all blooms are welcome on the open spaces. Invasive non-native species prevent native plants and wildlife from thriving and decrease the biodiversity that makes the Landmarks so unique. It’s a critical time to remove invasive species that steal nutrients, space, and light from native plant life and threaten local protected wild lands. Nature lovers can join the fight against invasive species by registering for a stewardship program on the Landmarks!
Roll up your sleeves and help native plant life thrive by planting seedlings and weeding out invasive species.
Want to chip in during National Planting Day? Nature lovers can help care for Orange County’s opens spaces by joining a stewardship program on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Native plants are important to the natural habitat and provide food and shelter for other native species including mule deer, scrub jays, squirrels, bob cats, and a variety of insects among many others. Celebrate National Planting Day this Saturday and throughout the month by registering for a stewardship program on the Landmarks!
The first Saturday after Labor Day each September is dedicated to National Planting Day, which celebrates the critical importance of native plants and trees. This national call to action is designed to mobilize outdoor enthusiasts across the country and enhance biodiversity by rebuilding ecosystems and planting native species. There are several opportunities to volunteer on the Landmarks through stewardship programs, which welcome the community to enjoy fresh air while giving back to the lands.
Roll up your sleeves and help restore the lands while enjoying fresh air and spectacular views.
Native plants are sprouting and wildflowers are beginning to bloom on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, but there’s another form of plant life popping up across the open spaces: invasive weeds. Pesky invasive weeds threaten the habitat, disrupting the natural ecosystem and impeding local plants and wildlife. The Landmarks are home to many stewardship programs that help combat invasive weeds, and the community is invited to join the fight against these formidable foes. Registering for a stewardship program not only helps the local lands, but also offers an opportunity to connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors.
From the dark leaves of coastal scrub oak and black sage, to the bright hues of coyote brush and coastal prickly pear cactus, St. Patrick’s Day green is a common color around the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks this time of year. Recent rains and the winter season – when native plants come out of dormancy – have made the green shades even more prominent.
There are a variety of activities out on the Landmarks the week of St. Patrick’s Day to spot green in full force, whether during a fast-paced hike, an interactive outdoor adventure or volunteer opportunities giving back.
The first official day of spring isn’t until March 20, but many flowers on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are already beginning to bloom. Chocolate lilies have been spotted on the slopes of West Loma Ridge in Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve, Weir Canyon Nature Preserve is rich with fields of bright yellow fiddlenecks, and wild hyacinth and sticky monkey flower are plentiful along many trails in Bommer Canyon.
But wildflowers need more than just warm weather and rainfall to thrive long-term. Invasive and non-native plants can steal light and nutrients from native flora, making it harder for native species to grow. In 2012, the small-flowered morning glory – a rare, native flower that was in decline within the Landmarks – was discovered sprouting from dormant seeds in the West Loma Ridge watershed habitat restoration area. This uncommon flower was able to make a comeback in part due to the removal of invasive species; in the absence of weeds, its seeds remaining in the soil were able to return to an environment free of competition from invasive plants.
Wildflowers are starting to appear in local canyons, but not all of these flowers are happy harbingers of spring. Some blooms are signs of invasive weeds threatening native plants and wildlife of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. And while spring is the season to spot native wildflowers, it’s also a critical time to remove one of the most dangerous and invasive threats to our protected wild lands: Sahara mustard. You can help by volunteering to remove this invasive weed and help restore wildlife habitat.
Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) is a highly aggressive invasive weed that is more of an immediate threat to native flora and fauna than other, more-prevalent mustard such as black mustard (Brassica nigra). Despite Sahara mustard’s tiny, pale yellow flowers that look pretty for a short while, its ability to quickly and easily invade and replace healthy habitat makes it a prominent threat to the Landmarks. The weed can quickly spread its seed, grow rapidly, making it a top priority for removal before it establishes too much of a hold within the Landmarks. When invasive weeds drive out native plants, they also drive out the wildlife that depends on native plants for food and shelter. Public support is vital to stopping the weed’s spread and ensuring the continued protection of one of Orange County’s most diverse open spaces.
Volunteers help native plants and wildlife return to Quail Hill Loop.
Though artichoke thistle may look attractive with its bright purple flower, there is no questioning this weed’s destructive nature to the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Its aggressive root system and rapid leaf growth steals light, water and nutrients from native plants. Each plant can also produce tens of thousands of seeds per year that are blown by wind or hitchhike on animals. If left unchecked, artichoke thistle can quickly spread across a landscape, displacing native plant diversity in its path. The artichoke thistle is one of the worst threats to natural habitat within the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve’s Quail Hill.
The few can be mighty, and nothing better attests to that than the work and rewards of community stewardship.
Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are rich in oak-filled valleys, expansive grasslands and plentiful coastal sage. Protecting those lands from invasive non-native plants to keep wildlife thriving takes attentive, consistent and continuous dedication.
This is where community volunteers have the biggest impact – dedicating muscle and manpower to protecting nearly 40,000 acres of open space. Even the smallest amount of effort goes far in habitat restoration; for instance, a modest team of workers last week pulled 20,000 invasive plants from OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve in just two days.
Ongoing habitat restoration efforts in the Big Canyon area near Upper Newport Bay have brought many improvements, and there are big plans there for the future.
Since August of 2013, big things have been going on in Big Canyon, one of several large tributaries of the Upper Newport Bay. The City of Newport Beach initiated a habitat restoration project led by Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which has so far resulted in enhanced aesthetics of the canyon, a healthier balance of native flora and fauna, and an improved experience for those who visit.
The project has been a true community effort, with about 15 volunteer programs held in the past two years. The nature reserve area also benefits from nearby restoration projects led by the Newport Bay Conservancy and the Coastal Commission’s ROOTS program, supporting the overall health of greater Newport Bay.
The weed is shorter in size than the more prevalent Black mustard, but is more aggressive.
Sahara mustard is a highly invasive weed that can spread and degrade native wildlife habitat at a fast pace. The recent discovery of small populations of Sahara mustard in multiple locations within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks is causing concern, and now land managers are focusing efforts on eradicating Sahara mustard before it becomes entrenched.
Land managers in other parts of Southern California have already seen Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) monopolize large areas of land. Fields once home to wildflower blooms have been replaced by this unwanted weed, driving out wildlife that depends on native plants there for food or shelter.
Scientists use a helicopter to reach remote patches of invasive plants.
Volunteers often help remove invasive plants along trails and in easily-accessible areas of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. However, in remote wildland areas where trekking in on foot is just not feasible, scientists still have to keep invasive plants at bay. To seek out and eradicate these far-flung patches of weeds, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff gear up and take to the air.
Last weekend, two Conservancy staff members flew by helicopter to areas where invasive plants were taking hold. Together with contractors from Wildlands Conservation Science and transported by an expert wildland helicopter pilot, the team treated over 200 remote patches of artichoke thistle, pampas grass, tamarisk, and fountain grass. They received special training to safely and efficiently enter and exit the helicopter with their equipment. Using the helicopter meant that the crew could “hopscotch” from site to site and consequently finished work in three days that normally would have taken months to complete on foot.
Project will include trail improvements and replacing invasive plants with natives.
Winter is the perfect time to plant the native coastal sage scrub species found in local nature preserves, and this month the City of Newport Beach seeks volunteers to help with planting in Big Canyon. The volunteer effort is part of a trail improvement project led by Irvine Ranch Conservancy, on behalf of the City.
Over about 2.5 acres, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff will lead volunteers in planting small native plants and sowing native seeds. Volunteer work in Big Canyon will also include the removal of invasive species such as ice plant and pampas grass. These non-native plants compete for resources with native plants, which are critical to supporting healthy habitat for wildlife in Big Canyon and other preserve areas. The project will focus on trail-side improvements, and will include trail clearing and the installation of a temporary footbridge to allow for easier passage along the trail loop.
You can help bring back native plants – and wildlife – to this nature preserve.
The rolling pastures peppered with shrubs and rock outcroppings along the 405 between Sand Canyon and University are a stark contrast to the usual freeway scenery. This not-so-hidden spot is Quail Hill, a 733-acre area of permanently protected open space that is part of the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve.
Like much of the historic Irvine Ranch, cattle grazed Quail Hill for decades in the twentieth century. Grazing likely transformed the original plant community from one composed of native perennial flowers, grasses, and shrubs to one dominated by annual grasses and other invasive plants. After the cattle left the hills, the invasive artichoke thistle(Cynara cardunculus) has thrived, blanketing the hills around the Quail Hill Loop trail. Originally from Spain, this plant is a wild ancestor of the globe artichoke found in the supermarket.
Restoration activities across the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks reap big rewards.
Weeding in your backyard may keep your garden nice, but the same simple activity can have a much bigger impact when done in the wilderness areas of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. This simple task has major rewards for both the land and the volunteers who work on it.
Removing non-native and invasive plants such as black mustard and milk thistle is key to restoration work managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. Particularly noticeable at this time of year, hills are full of tiny yellow black mustard flowers. They look pretty, but in a short time the stems will dry and harden, increasing the wildland fire hazard with every growing season. Plus, by now this aggressive weed has already stolen sun and soil resources from nearby native plant seeds that might bloom later in the season, thwarting the spread of native seed and a healthy diversity of plant life.
Work will focus on Quail Hill area; community is invited to participate.
The Irvine Ranch Conservancy has partnered with the California Conservation Corps to advance an invasive plant species removal project in Irvine’s Quail Hill area. The Corpsmembers will receive training from the Conservancy in plant identification, safe use of tools and sensitive plant species, then undertake a massive removal of artichoke thistle over four days.
On April 12, the last day of the project, the public is invited to participate in the removal of artichoke thistle -- an invasive, non-native plant that threatens local native plants and wildlife. The plant flowers from April through July, so cutting the plants down now is critical to preventing the plants from setting seed. This project in Quail Hill builds on the Corps’ long history of working outdoors to improve California’s natural resources. Since 1976, Corpsmembers have provided more than 65 million hours of natural resources work statewide.
Family-friendly restoration events teach kids about preserving OC wildlands.
Amid the sprawling oaks and blooming wildflowers in Limestone and Baker canyons lurks a prickly menace. An invasive weed called milk thistle threatens native plants and grasses that wildlife use for food and shelter. While widespread, milk thistle is easy to pull, and OC Parks is hosting a family-friendly event that will have kids showing milk thistle who’s boss.
Welcome to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy "News from the Field" blog. These articles are written by Conservancy staff about activities and projects in and near the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.