The Buck Gully Reserve within the City of Newport Beach encompasses 300 acres of high quality coastal sage scrub and riparian habitat bounded by single-family residences on one side, and the Pelican Hill Golf Course on the other. Still, the expanse supports a highly diverse native plant population and is the perfect respite for the region’s wildlife.
But amidst the native willows and sycamores, Buck Gully’s northwestern zone has been the site of degraded habitat. The need to create “fuel breaks” or a Hazard Reductions Zone between the nearby homes and the wildlands had left the region with a hillside covered with invasive ice plant. And by 2013, the plant meant to suppress wildfires had mostly died, becoming a potential fire hazard itself.
Thanks to funding from the city of Newport Beach, a restoration effort was started under the umbrella of the Waterwise Program, designed to reduce urban runoff into watersheds such as the Buck Gully Reserve. That allowed the Irvine Ranch Conservancy to utilize its native plant restoration techniques on the hillside—replacing the ice plant with an array of vegetation found in local coastal sage scrub habitat.
For three-and-a-half years, volunteers from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy have been heading out every month, assisting staff in weeding and replanting more than one acre of hillside in Buck Gully. Irvine Ranch Conservancy Project Manager Riley Pratt said the ice plant covered the entire one-acre, and it was thick. A combination of hand-weeding and herbicide broke down the groundcover over time, and made way for natives to be planted.
This spring, with the recent rains helping, the hillside took on a completely new look, covered in native flowers including California poppies, arroyo lupine, and chia, all blooming amongst native shrubs such as black sage, lemonade berry, California sagebrush, buckwheat, and more.
The hillside is a perfect example of how supporting and restoring natural environments can also mean improving the aesthetic of an environment, and in turn, improving the recreational value of the region to nearby residents and visitors.
For upcoming activities in Buck Gully, including stewardship opportunities, visit LetsGoOutside.com/activities.