Frequently Asked Questions about Bolsa Chica

You've got Questions, We've got Answers

General Questions:

A: No, dogs, bikes, and drones are not allowed at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (BCER).  However, dogs and bikes are allowed on the OC Parks’ berms along the Wintersburg Channel only.  There are signs at all major entrances to the BCER.

  1. A primary reason for the establishment of the Reserve was to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat. Pets, especially domestic dogs and cats, interfere with this conservation goal. 
  2. The pet owner that allows their dog to flush wildlife such as waterfowl or rabbits is committing a “take” under CCRT-14. 
  3. Dogs and cats frighten birds and cause them to fly away from habitat that the birds use for foraging and nesting. 
  4. The scent or presence of a dog or cat may result in nest abandonment. 
  5. Dog walking, including leashed dogs, results in a reduction of the number of birds and the number of bird species near trails where dogs are walked. 
  6. Pet feces can transmit pathogens to wild animals and dog owners often fail to pick up after their pets when in public places. 
  7. Off-leash pets have been killed by rattlesnakes and coyotes on the Reserve. 
  8. Tidal currents can be lethal to pets: an off-leash dog drowned on the Reserve. 
  9. Dogs may frighten other Reserve visitors. Reportedly, elderly visitors and children have felt threated by dogs that came too close to them while visiting the Reserve.  
  10. All native wildlife and plants on the Reserve are protected species. Moreover, the Reserve features 14 special status birds; two special status reptiles; one special status mammal; and six rare plant species. Dogs and cats pose an increased threat to the following six special status species at Bolsa Chica: 
  • Light-footed Ridgway’s rail, Rallus obsoletus levipes, listed as Endangered (ESA & CESA); 
  • California least tern, Sternula antillarum browni, listed as Endangered (ESA & CESA); 
  • Coastal California gnatcatcher, Polioptila californica californica, listed as Threatened (ESA); 
  • Western snowy plover, Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus, listed as Threatened (ESA); CDFW Species of Special Concern; USFWS designated a 475-acre portion of BCER as Critical Habitat; 
  • Belding Savannah sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi, listed as Endangered (CESA); and, 
  • Southern California legless lizard, Anniella stebbinsi, CDFW Species of Special Concern. 
  1. Bicycle riders frighten wildlife, causing them to flee. 
  2. Bicycle riders can cause nest abandonment. 
  3. Bicycle riders can destroy native vegetation. 
  4. Bicycle riders can cause habitat fragmentation. 
  5. Bolsa Chica’s trails were not designed for bicycles; they are intended for passive wildlife viewing and hiking only. 

A: State Lands Commission owns the wetland portion and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife own the upland portion, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife manage the entire Reserve. 

A: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife Wardens are in charge of enforcement.  CDFW also must approve all signage.  The 3 Non-profits will collaborate to design, pay for, and install signage and informational signs. 

A: The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was established and is maintained for the protection of our coastal wildlife.   The public is welcome to visit, however staying on the trails is critical for the safety of both human visitors and wildlife alike.  When people go off trail they kill native vegetation, they can frighten wildlife which can lead to nest abandonment, and their actions can speed erosion of our sensitive bluff edges.  You also risk being bitten by snakes and insects who call Bolsa Chica home. 

A: Trash cans are located at both Reserve parking lots.  We ask that all visitors leave no garbage at the Reserve.  Leave No Trace. 

A: Public restrooms will be made available at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy’s facility located on Warner Avenue during their operating hours.  For more than a decade, portable units were made available to the public in both Reserve parking lots and were paid for by the 3 Bolsa Chica nonprofits, at a cost of thousands of dollars each year.  Unfortunately, the units were consistently vandalized and the decision to remove the units from public use was made in November 2021.  The unit remaining in the PCH lot is locked and is reserved for staff and tour participants only.

A: The Bolsa Chica Land Trust’s mission is for all of Bolsa Chica – the wetlands and Mesa.  We have successfully fought back development and are currently trying to acquire the last privately owned acres to save as open space.  We advocate for the preservation, conservation, and restoration of all the habitats here, as well as educate the public on its importance (regionally and beyond).  BCLT also values our environmental roots, and we use our voice to help protect our environment, locally and globally.  We have a strong habitat restoration program and plant nursery with the Stewards and Jr. Stewards, lead tours, and we have a Next Generation standards education program called Miracles of the Marsh.  BCLT partners with the managing State agencies on larger restoration efforts, currently we are managing a Sustainabilities Study for the lowland wetlands/tidal inlet, and BCLT is beginning the project to restore the two Tern Nesting Islands in Inner Bolsa Bay.

The Amigos de Bolsa Chica is the oldest of the 3 Bolsa Chica Non-Profit organizations.  Their efforts have been considerable, and outstanding towards saving Bolsa Chica’s wetlands.  Today, they have a very good educational program called Flow, host many public meetings on topics relevant to Bolsa Chica and the environment, and lead tours.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy, up to Fall 2019 was led in part by individuals who were either current or past officers of the development company (Signal Landmark/Koll) who had planned on building 5,000 homes and a marina at Bolsa Chica.  Therefore, their concern is for the wetlands, not for the mesa or areas where their Board of Directors have had development interests, and individuals on their Board of Directors past & present are known to support anti-environmental positions.  They manage the Interpretive Center in the North Parking lot, lead tours, do some habitat restoration, have a mobile interpretive van, and run EONs (Eyes On Nests) monitoring program during the nesting season.

A: The trees are a complicated issue.  They are non-native Eucalyptus and Palm trees planted as part of the old Gun Club landscaping.  They are now considered ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area) and are slowly dying from old age.  They will not be cut down as they are important roosting and nesting habitat for the raptors.  Naturally, the only trees that would have been here were willows and possibly oak lining the sides of Freeman creek, which no longer flows at Bolsa. The Eucalyptus and Palms have ESHA protection for the habitat they provide, however, replacing them will be difficult. There is no irrigation, the soil is not great, the ocean winds and salt spray are brutal to young plants, the Mesa is sensitive due to archaeological issues, and the raptors the trees provide habitat for feed on the endangered plover and tern chicks.

Complicated! At this point we have not received direction from CDFW regarding the trees. Something for sure needs to be done if the ESHA values are to remain, but we don’t know what or when. Our position is that we would want to see new trees planted to retain the ESHA habitat. However, we will certainly listen to biologists and CDFW and contribute to what is determined to be the best for the Reserve. Even if everyone is in agreement to plant new trees it does not mean that it would be possible at the same location given the site’s condition. The habitat the grove provides is very special, and we would want to see it continue. We are also opposed to the removal of the dead trees as they provide habitat as well. 

A: Yes, there is still operating oil wells at Bolsa Chica.  California Resource Corporation currently holds the oil lease.  There is no fracking done at Bolsa Chica, and most of the oil infrastructure is not in view of the public.  Whereas BCLT welcomes the day that the last remaining oil field is restored to wetland habitat, the current oil operator has been diligent about being a good neighbor.  They have provided funding for education and outreach to the 3 Bolsa Chica Non-Profits, including for all of the new educational signage, and recently placed a nesting platform on one of their power poles to protect a pair of nesting Osprey. 

A: It is true that the maintenance funding established in 2006 for the tidal inlet and lowland wetland basin has been depleted.  The maintenance costs for the restored wetlands is substantial, and not sustainable.  Thus, BCLT in partnership with the Bolsa Chica Steering Committee (made up of 8 State and Federal agencies tasked with oversight of Bolsa Chica) received a Prop 1 grant to fund a study of the system with the goal of identifying options to lower the maintenance cost without negatively impacting the biodiversity of the site.  That study is due at the end of 2020. 

Once the study is completed and a course of action agreed upon by the Steering Committee, BCLT will help to facilitate funding for the implementation of adjustments to the system which will reduce the maintenance costs.  However, the amount of money needed to implement changes and the ongoing maintenance is unknown at the time.   

A: Although we were less than thrilled when the fence went up in the 1990’s, it has proven to be enormously beneficial for the wildlife of Bolsa Chica.  For the most part, it has provided a level of security to the raptors and coyotes that use the Lower Bench area.  Without the constant threat of human intrusion and abuse, these animals have been able to use the Mesa, even in its degraded state, for hunting and foraging  
The California Department of Fish & Wildlife owns the Lower Bench and the priority is keeping the area safe for the wildlife.  It will help to secure the site, our Growing Space nursery and equipment, and the restoration project, as well as continue to provide needed security to the wildlife of the Mesa. 

A: The Bolsa Chica Land Trust has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to develop plans to restore the Lower Bench (the area inside the fence). The Bolsa Chica Stewards have developed plans to restore some of the most important upland habitat to be found along the Southern California coast.  Most important will be the community involvement, volunteers giving their time and energies to breathe new life onto the Bolsa Chica Mesa. A unique combination, ours is a project that will set the standards for restoring vital wildlife habitat amongst urban sprawl. 

A: The Bolsa Chica Land Trust continues to work on the acquisition of the Ridge and Goodell properties.  BCLT successfully raised $1 million as our contribution to the acquisition and is partnering with the Trust for Public Land to raise the rest of the funds needed.  As these are coastal properties, the amount needed for acquisition is substantial, and the process long and arduous.

A: No.  Although Bolsa Chica is an internationally known birding location, it is a place relatively few know of out of Orange County.  Online fundraising campaigns of the size required to raise millions of dollars are typically for an issue that has widespread appeal and attention.  Crowdfunding is also not a good source for sustainable and reoccurring funding.

A: Donations are always appreciated. Make your contribution to the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, our parent organization. Please see the Land Trust’s Donate page for more information.

Volunteer Questions:

A: No. While many of our regular volunteers and Core Team are members of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, you don’t have to be a member of the Land Trust to volunteer with the Bolsa Chica Stewards – all you have to do is show up!   And there is no fee or registration required for work days.  However, if you are bringing a group of 25 or more please give us in advance so that we can make certain to have enough snacks and water on hand.

Joining the Bolsa Chica Land Trust is another way of expressing your support for the environment and the work of the Bolsa Chica Stewards.  Please see the Land Trust’s Donate page for more information. 

A: All you need to do is show up – often!!  Bolsa Chica Stewards tee shirts are earned, not bought.  If you volunteer often enough and join our Core Team, you get a tee shirt!

A: Core Team individuals are those who reliably come out to most, if not all, of our work days and are able to give direction to other volunteers. A fun and spirited bunch, each member is vital to the functioning of the Stewards.  While many of our Core Team have been with us since the beginning in 1995, new members are always welcome.  There is no membership fee, and the best benefit is the friendships you will make.

Training is easy—just let us know that you are interested in joining our ranks.  Core Team membership is a commitment of at least 8+ work days in the year. If you truly are ready to take charge, to help out your local environment in a profound way, let us know.  We can’t wait to meet you!

A: Our volunteers come from every corner of our community. Our volunteers range in age from 5 to 85 (really!).  We see volunteers from grade schools, high schools, colleges, universities, homeschoolers, corporations, churches, community groups, the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts, and folks from the local community who want to make a lasting, positive change in our local environment.

A: Absolutely! We do our best to make this a fun and educational experience regardless of age.  It is a great family event, although we ask that all children have a parent or guardian with them.  Our children will inherit our open spaces, and we are strong advocates of getting kids out into the sunshine and into the dirt. Look for the Jr. Stewards Program for ages 5-16. For more info please contact Danny (

Plant on the Mesa Questions:

A: All living things require rest, even plants and trees. Here in Southern California it is easy to take green things for granted.   But our wild lands are much different. When many native plants ‘go dormant’ they lose their leaves and flowers and look very twiggy, but they are simply resting.   

Most native plants choose to rest during the hottest months of the year – where it would take the most energy to maintain leaves and blossoms.  They go dormant and wait patiently for the winter rains to wake them. Once the cooler evenings and hopefully rains come in you will see the green leaves reappearing on bare branches, and by spring they are back stronger and growing.  

A: We have been working with Southern California Coastal Sage Scrub, Coastal Strand, and some Coastal Wetland plants for over two decades. We now working with Coastal Grassland/Prairie plant pallets for the past 7 years.  

A: We do loose some plants every time we put plants in the ground.  The reasons vary: hungry critters may nibble a bit too much, transplant shock, harsh weather immediately after going in the ground, etc.  But all is not lost; plants that do not take root are left to compost and feed the soil. Typically, if the plants survive the first summer, they will do just fine. 

A: Most the plants are grown in our on-site nursery Growing Space.  We also will get plants from Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. Our seed comes from S&S Seed.  Some cactus is taken as cuttings from existing native cactus found on the Mesa. 

A: Absolutely – donations for plants are deeply appreciated.  You can securely donate specifically to the habitat restoration on our website under Other Ways to Give and select Mesa Restoration.  Please do not directly purchase plants for our project; we are following a specific restoration plan, and the Bolsa Chica Stewards will ensure that the correct species of plants are grown/purchased and planted in the proper locations. 

A: Individuals are not permitted to plant on their own. The Bolsa Chica Stewards work in cooperation with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, who own and manage the Mesa, and as such have permission for their planting activities. Our main planting days follow the growth period found in nature, October through April. You are welcome to join us during these months on our regular planting work day, the third Saturday of the month, to plant plants on the Mesa. 

A: As of October 2020, we have planted 53,009 native plants and roughly 50 pounds of seed. From 1997- March 2020 We’ve had 26,850 total volunteers dedicate 84,599 hours towards restoring the Bolsa Chica Mesa to native habitats.  After March 2020, dedicated Core Stewards have planted 2,156 plants, and as of October 2020, we have over 1,500 plants, grown from seed, ready to plant in our Growing Space (native plant nursery).