BCLT hosts Irvine Ranch Conservancy for a Comprehensive Interpretive Hike
In June, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust partnered with Irvine Ranch Conservancy to host a comprehensive interpretive hike for a handful of their volunteers at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (BCER), and it was a hit.
The IRC manages 40,000 acres of land in collaboration with various public and private landowners. The area spans from the Santa Ana mountains above the City of Irvine to the sea in the City of Newport Beach. IRC offers amazing free interpretive programs to enhance the public’s experience and connection with nature with the support of a dedicated crew of 400+ volunteers. In an effort to broaden the knowledge and understanding of their volunteers, the IRC looks to connect them with various habitats around Orange County. Bolsa Chica was a perfect choice as it offers a unique learning opportunity.
At 8:00am on a cool, overcast June morning as the sharp cries of terns swirled overhead, a small group of 16 people met with Beverley and Bequi in the south parking lot, and spent 3 hours hiking a 4-mile loop through Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It was a tough crowd consisting of people already very familiar with flora, fauna, and the complex nature of habitat communities. This only made the adventure all the more enjoyable for our pair of knowledgeable BCLT Stewards.
As they led the group through multiple habitats from saltwater marsh to coastal sage scrub to sand dunes, they delved into a wide variety of topics including what makes BCER so special. Did you know that the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve has the most habitat diversity of any coastal area between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River?
The multiple habitats that can be found here include the above-mentioned saltwater marsh, coastal sage scrub and coastal strand, as well as mudflats, wetlands, and riparian areas. Each habitat hosts its own specific and specialized plants and animals but woven together these diverse habitats support a more richly complex community of wildlife.
Managing this 1400-acre refuge has its challenges, many of which the IRC volunteers understand all too well. Destruction of sensitive habitat by human activity is at the top of the list. While most IRC managed lands are protected by fences and gates reducing, though not eliminating, the amount of human disturbance, Bolsa Chica has fewer protections. This, paired with the fact that Bolsa Chica is so openly accessible on all sides, leaves these sensitive habitats vulnerable to damage caused by humans, dogs, bicycles, drones, and more. The new volunteer Reserve Watch program and an increase in CDFW warden patrols has helped towards curbing unwanted activity and preserving the Ecological Reserve for future generations.
Like the IRC lands, humans have been visiting and utilizing this beautiful coastal pocket for centuries beginning with Native American Indigenous people, evidence of which can still be seen on the mesa today. Ranching, farming, a hunting club, drilling for oil, and military presence have all contributed to the degradation of the wetlands and mesa but, don’t give up hope! Restoration efforts over the past 26 years by the Bolsa Chica Land Trust Stewards have made a visible impact and boosted the populations of many of the 24 different listed and endangered species within the Reserve. That includes endangered plants, insects, reptiles, birds, and marine life, and this list keeps growing!
By 10:45am the sun had warmed the Reserve and the hikers were on the coastal strand trail among the sand dunes, yellow beach suncups, and lizards, headed back to the parking lot. They had discussed history, habitat restoration, and common challenges shared by both organizations. They had passed schools of fish, flocks of birds, and banks of blossoming plants buzzing with pollinators. It had been a good morning. The group was kept small so that everyone could have a chance to listen and participate, and because of this, IRC and BCLT are planning more hikes together in the future at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.