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.
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.