Known as one of the world’s biodiversity “hot spots,” the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are home to many important natural habitats. Across the Landmarks, visitors will find coastal sage scrub, a rare and biologically rich habitat that is native to coastal 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.”
One of the main challenges for the recovery effort is keeping invasive species at bay. Invasive plants are generally more robust, and they tend to establish themselves more quickly in the burned areas than native species. Careful observation is necessary to make sure these plants don’t become an issue.
Rain can also play a big factor in the recovery. This past rainy season was the driest on record in California, slowing the pace of recovery. However, if rainfall levels return to normal or exceed the yearly average, the impacted areas will have a much better chance of rebounding quickly.
The most important thing you can do to aid in the recovery is help reduce fire frequency and prevent future fires in the area. While our local ecosystems are adapted to handle the occasional wildfire, they have been happening far too often, depriving the land of the time it needs to recover. For more information on what you can do to help prevent wildfires, please visit the Fire Watch Volunteer Program page: letsgooutside.org/activities/fire-watch/.