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Restoration Success: Agua Chinon Continues to Thrive

PictureWater from Agua Chinon joins the San Diego Creek, and ends in Upper Newport Bay.

Restoring degraded landscapes is a challenge, but the results can have a significant positive impact on native plants and wildlife. 

Five years ago, the 1,200-acre Agua Chinon canyon was filled with non-native species like pampas grass, castor bean and mustard weed, which invaded after numerous fires and years of cattle grazing. In 2013, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy with support from OC Waste & Recycling and OC Transportation Authority (OCTA) developed the Agua Chinon Restoration Project–an effort to revitalize the land in the Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve. The goals remain to remove invasive species, plant native species, and bring OC Parks’ Agua Chinon back to a thriving ecosystem for wildlife and a true destination for hikers. Now after five years of restoration work, Agua Chinon boasts enhanced habitat including oak and willow trees, elderberry, mule fat, and other native riparian plant life and associated wildlife.


Volunteers help restore riparian habitat in Agua Chinon.
“My life’s work is to be a part of a project that will have a lasting impact and undo some of the damage that’s been done to these lands,” said Robert Freese, the Restoration Project Manager. “It’s great to see the community get involved—from bird watching to stewardships—it’s really a community effort. You’re always learning something new in this constantly evolving process.”
The restoration project started with researchers gathering baseline data followed by two years of site preparation. During the process, “trial plots” were planted with various native species to identify which plants would thrive in the sandy soil. After two years, native species began to thrive. Visitors can now visit Agua Chinon and experience native plant life like shrubs, poppies and lupines.
Local wildlife has also returned to the native habitat, including the California Gnatcatcher, which can be spotted in spring and is dependent on the shrub habitat restored in Agua Chinon. Six times a year, crews venture to remote areas of Agua Chinon to complete bird surveys and monitor the insects and other wildlife. These surveys depict how the ecosystem is adapting to the restoration.
Today, site maintenance and monitoring continues in Agua Chinon. By working with the community through stewardship programs, invasive species are weeded out and native plants are re-introduced. Visitors can participate in stewardship programs to promote the restoration and see the benefits of their hard work first-hand through hikes and activities.
Join Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteers to preserve the local lands. All activities offered are free with required pre-registration. For more details on stewardship programs, hikes, and other activities visit