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Buck Gully Gets Water Wise


Habitat restoration project now includes WaterWise Native Plant Demonstration.

It may seem like a paradox, but the two biggest threats to the Buck Gully Reserve are fire and water. Non-native, fire-prone ornamental plants and runoff water from nearby homes are found throughout the preserve, but luckily, one project seeks to lessen the impact of both threats.

The City of Newport Beach has partnered with Irvine Ranch Conservancy for a WaterWise Native Plant Demonstration project, seeking to transform one acre of invasive ice plant with a plant assortment that is native to the area, fire-resistant and drought tolerant. While the ice plant has some of these qualities, there are other aspects of the plant that make it a nuisance to the health of Buck Gully. The shallow root system does not control erosion along the steep slopes, and the thatch that develops under large fields of the plant is extremely flammable. 

Once the invasive plants are removed, the Conservancy plans an eye-pleasing palette of fire-resistant and deep-rooted native plants. Through the winter and spring, residents and visitors will start to see large shrubs such as lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) and laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) surrounded by smaller shrubs and wildflowers such as cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis), California sunflower (Encelia californica) and golden stars (Bloomeria crocea).

The planting will be done in accordance with the Newport Beach Fire Department’s hazard reduction guidelines, using plants on the NPFD Fire Resistant Plant List. Trees will not be planted in the demonstration area, and the native plants will attract a variety of birds and butterflies.

Native plants with deep roots will also help control slope erosion. Reducing water use at the top helps, too, and the City encourages smart water use through its WaterWise program, which is funding this demonstration project.

The demonstration area is part of a larger stewardship partnership between the City and the Conservancy, to help restore native habitat throughout Upper Buck Gully Reserve. However, focusing work on a one-acre demonstration area helps give residents and visitors a “preview” of what’s to come, as well as provide hints on how they can put the same planting techniques to use in their own yards.

Members of the public are invited to participate in the restoration through volunteer activities led by the Conservancy. To see a list of upcoming activities in Buck Gully, visit