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Landmarks Focus: Coastal Sage Scrub

PictureCoastal sage scrub habitat in the City of Newport Beach’s Buck Gully Reserve

​One of the world’s biodiversity “hot spots,” the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are home to a wide variety of important natural habitats and species. Across the Landmarks, visitors will find coastal sage scrub (CSS), a rare and biologically rich habitat that is native to coastal Southern California.
 
Today, the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are one of the largest areas in California containing this Mediterranean-type habitat. Coastal sage scrub grows primarily in dry, foggy areas along the coast, and inland foothills and canyons where the marine layer can reach. If you’ve explored the trails of the Landmarks, chances are you’ve come across this unique habitat. Showing off a range of color, coastal sage scrub is an entire ecosystem consisting of a wide variety of plants, insects, mammals and birds, many of which are rare and rely on this particular habitat to survive. 

​Some of the plant species that can be found in coastal sage scrub habitats include the pleasantly aromatic California sagebrush, goldenbush, coastal prickly pear cactus and black sage. Bird watching enthusiasts can look out for species like the California thrasher, cactus wren and coastal California gnatcatcher. Thrashers are named for their feeding behavior; they use their long bills to “thrash” through dirt and plant matter to search for insects. The cactus wren gets its name from the cacti it frequently lives and builds nests in. The non-migratory cactus wren lives in its chosen nest year-round, and while it aggressively defends its established territory, it faces threats ranging from the destruction of habitat for housing development to invasive species and feral cats. The California gnatcatcher is found solely in coastal sage scrub habitat, and with much of this habitat threatened by development, is now listed under the Endangered Species Act.
 
Over the years, coastal sage scrub habitats on the Landmarks have been threatened by conversion of habitat to urbanization and invasive, non-native species. We are lucky that much of the Landmarks’ CSS habitats are relatively healthy and undisturbed, but it takes a lot of work to keep them that way and to restore more degraded areas. Irvine Ranch Conservancy, along with its partners OC Parks, City of Irvine and the City of Newport Beach, consistently works to maintain this natural habitat by executing large-scale restoration projects. To learn more about Irvine Ranch Conservancy, visit IRConservancy.org.