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Perhaps, as you’ve driven out of Laguna Canyon recently, you’ve noticed some changes along the side of the road across from the Willow Staging Area parking lot, north of the Sun Valley neighborhood. Work crews, machinery, new openings in the vegetation, big piles of wood chips, a spiffy new lodgepole fence…and what are all of those pink cones about, anyway?

All of this activity is part of the DeWitt Property Habitat Restoration Project, a collaboration of Laguna Canyon Foundation, Laguna Greenbelt and the City of Laguna Beach, funded through a River Parkways grant from the California Natural Resources Agency. This five-acre project will include the active restoration of over 1.5 acres of upland and riparian transitional habitat (including a wildflower meadow), approximately ½-mile of new trails, several interpretive signs and more.

Laguna Canyon Foundation has been working hard for the past year to prepare the site for planting. This has included a thorough site survey and development of a site master plan and restoration plan, several rounds of invasive plant and non-native tree removal, weeks of debris removal and grading (including the removal of the asphalt parking lot and fence that used to be directly across from Willow), construction of the lodgepole fence and the installation of an extensive irrigation system.

Over the past month we have installed over 3,500 container plants of over 50 different native species and 35 native trees. Another five specimen trees (installation included) were donated by Laguna Greenbelt. We have also sowed over 20 pounds of native wildflower seed in the future wildflower meadow.

Now that plant installation is largely complete, the hard work begins: caring for all of those plants for the next three years until they are established, and continuing to manage the pervasive invasive plants (including poison hemlock, giant reed, pampas grass, cape ivy, yellow flag iris, black mustard and many, many more) throughout the entire project area. During this time the trails and the interpretive signs will also be completed.

Laguna Canyon Foundation would like to thank all of our partners, including our neighbors in the Sun Valley neighborhood, Anneliese Schools, Laguna Greenbelt, BGB Design Group, the City of Laguna Beach Water Quality Department, the California Natural Resources Agency, Southern California Edison, Orange County Conservation Corps and our hard-working contractors and field technicians for the ongoing success of this project.

As a trained fire ecologist, I see fires differently than most. My work in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, California and other western states has shown me that fire is the keystone disturbance regime for most upland ecosystems in this region. The Wilderness Parks that surround Laguna Beach are no exception.  The habitats that exist in the Wilderness Parks surrounding Laguna Beach – chaparral and coastal sage scrub – are adapted to infrequent (every 30 to 100 years), high-intensity (generating flames 100 feet or longer) fires. Historic and current land management practices–such as fire suppression, grazing, and building more homes in the wilderness-urban interface—have altered fire regimes in most of these places.

In our neck of the woods, an increase in (human-caused) ignitions combined with a longer fire season (due to climate change) has led to fires becoming more frequent, and, increasingly, burning larger areas: for instance, three of the five largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last five years, and all five of them have occurred in the last 15 years. These changes can lead to severe habitat damage, as well as impacts to surrounding human communities, including loss of structures, injuries to firefighters and/or residents, and even loss of life.

After the destruction caused by the 1993 fire, the Laguna Beach Fire Department (LBFD) implemented a series of fuel breaks to protect parts of the City from future wildfires using goat grazing to remove flammable vegetation in key areas. Laguna Canyon Foundation and LBFD have been collaborating on expanding the City’s fuel modification program to protect the areas of the City that are most vulnerable to wildfires in a way that balances the need for community safety with the need to preserve and protect the habitat quality in our wilderness parks and other areas preserved as open space.

Our first projects have been in Nyes and Oro Canyons surrounding the Arch Beach Heights and Portofino neighborhoods, in areas containing sensitive habitats and threatened plants. These projects showcase a “kinder, gentler” method of achieving fire safety objectives than creating wide-open fuel breaks through goat grazing.  And while we all love Agotilio and his goats, using them in the wrong places can impact native plants, cause erosion, and spread invasive species. Laguna Canyon Foundation’s work includes pre-project planning and neighborhood outreach, educating contractor crews, conducting photo monitoring and implementing sensitive species protection measures.

Laguna Canyon Foundation closely supervises hand crews to remove non-native, dead and dying vegetation and “ladder fuels” (the lower branches of larger plants that can allow the fire to climb from the surface in to the canopy) and to thin remaining healthy, native vegetation where necessary to reach the project objectives.  This allows us to maintain native vegetative cover, protect rare plant species, and reduce the potential for erosion or invasive weed problems. It allows us to protect wildlife habitat and aesthetic values, while giving firefighters and residents the extra time and space they need to evacuate and protect the neighborhoods more safely.

Laguna Canyon Foundation is currently working with LBFD to obtain Coastal Development Permits for fuel modification zones in the areas of Barracuda Way and Driftwood Drive. These areas will use a combination of goat grazing and hand crews. Additionally, LBFD recently received a $4.2 million grant from CalFire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, to implement fuel modification around the Canyon Acres, Castle Rock and adjacent neighborhoods along the east side of Laguna Canyon. Laguna Canyon Foundation will play a similar role in these areas, and additionally will be responsible for implementing habitat restoration projects on the west side of the Canyon as part of this grant.

But it doesn’t stop with our work, Agotilo’s goats’ work and LBFD’s work.  Each of us needs to be aware and do our share.

So, what can you do?

When it comes to protecting our homes and families from wildfire, research shows that what matters is how our homes are constructed and what is within 100 feet of the home. To learn more and to sign up for a free Wildfire Consultation with Laguna Beach Fire Department, please click here.

You can also donate to Laguna Canyon Foundation and volunteer with us doing trail and restoration work.

Let’s all #KeepItWild.

Interested in working for Laguna Canyon Foundation? Apply today to become a Restoration Technician and join our team!

Founded in 1990, Laguna Canyon Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the South Coast Wilderness, a 22,000-acre network of open space surrounding Laguna Beach in Orange County, California.

We acquire open space to add to the parks system, offer educational programs for school children and free programs for the general public, design and rehabilitate trails, and restore habitat throughout the South Coast Wilderness.

The Restoration Program is currently engaged in over a dozen different projects, ranging from habitat mitigation to weed management to rare plant protection to fuel modification.

Position Summary:

The Restoration Technician will work closely with both the Restoration Director and Restoration Coordinator, other Laguna Canyon Foundation staff, landowners and partners to implement both small scale and landscape level habitat restoration projects.

This position performs duties including but not limited to: native plant seed collection, native plant propagation and installation, irrigation installation and maintenance, qualitative and quantitative monitoring of restoration sites, mechanical and chemical weed control, and GIS mapping. This position is primarily field based and requires extensive physical labor in adverse conditions and difficult terrain, including but not limited to working with herbicide, hand weeding, digging, bending, kneeling, and hauling heavy, awkward materials and equipment.  The ideal candidate will have experience working on habitat restoration projects, be a strong problem solver who is comfortable using an adaptive work management style, have a proven track record working both independently and as a team member, and be dependable and self-motivated with a positive attitude. 

Responsibilities:

  • Conduct field work in support of new and ongoing habitat restoration projects, including:
    • Obtaining, propagating and installing plant propagules
    • Identifying and managing non-native plant populations through a combination of herbicide application, hand-pulling, mowing and mulching
    • Installing, monitoring and maintaining irrigation systems
    • Making monthly and quarterly site observations
    • Assisting with annual vegetation monitoring and photo documentation
    • Other tasks as assigned

Requirements:

  • One year experience in gardening, landscaping, plant nurseries or related field
  • Knowledge of or ability to learn and identify local native and non-native plants
  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively and efficiently, both independently and as a productive team member
  • Access to a reliable vehicle, valid driver’s license and required insurance coverage, and willingness to use vehicle for work purposes (mileage reimbursement available)
  • Ability and willingness to perform physically demanding labor in adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain
  • Excellent interpersonal communication skills, time management skills, and organizational abilities
  • Ability and willingness to work weekend and evening hours as necessary
  • Highly-motivated and a proven self-starter
  • Passion for Laguna Canyon Foundation’s mission

The ideal candidate may also have:

  • Experience with herbicide application in a restoration setting
  • Experience using handheld power tools (e.g., weed trimmers, brush cutters, chainsaws)
  • Experience in implementing habitat restoration projects
  • Experience leading field-based volunteer events

Essential Functions:

The person in this position:

  • Constantly works in outdoors in a wide range of weather conditions.
  • Constantly traverses off-trail over rough terrain and steep slopes, sometimes through thick vegetation.
  • Frequently lifts and carries loads up to 25 pounds and occasionally lifts loads up to 50 pounds.
  • Frequently positions self close to the ground to pull weeds, fix irrigation lines, etc.
  • Frequently grips and manipulates hand tools such as shovels, picks, loppers, wrenches, hammers, etc.
  • Constantly exchanges information both verbally and in written form with supervisor, co-workers, and others.
  • Remains in a stationary position for up to 30% of the time.

Salary and Benefits:

  • This position will start at an hourly rate of $14-16 per hour depending on experience.
  • We are currently waiting on funding to come through for two large grants, which we expect to happen in the next 3 to 6 months. Until then, 40 hours per week are expected but not guaranteed. Once funding is in place we expect this to become a full-time position with benefits.
  • Some evenings and weekends are required.
  • There is potential for advancement as program grows.

To apply, send resume and cover letter to alan@lagunacanyon.org. Applications will be processed on a rolling basis and will close on August 31st.

That’s a wrap! Laguna Canyon Foundation has officially completed another successful season of work on the Parks trails!

Our trailwork is a true community effort. Volunteers, OC Parks staff and Laguna Canyon Foundation staff work side by side at both regularly-scheduled and quick-response trail events, preparing for and mitigating rainfall and fire damage and repairing and improving our trails so that they are fun and safe for all users and have minimal impacts on the adjacent habitats.

Check out what we accomplished this year:

Stats for this season:  
Number of Volunteer Events: 52
Total number of Event Hours: 187
Unique Volunteers Engaged: 78
Number of Trails Worked On: 15
Total Volunteer Hours: 686
Total Hours of Trail Work (incl. LCF staff): 1000+
And here are some highlights of our accomplishments:  
Drainage Features Constructed: 48
Drainage Features Maintained/Improved: 77
Turns Constructed: 3
Turns Maintained/Improved: 19
Tread Maintained/Improved (linear feet): 1600
Tread Armored (linear feet): 170
Naturalization (square feet): 5,075
Trail Cleared of Brush (linear feet): 21,500 (That’s over 4 miles!)


Considering some of the challenges we faced (including having several events cancelled due to rain), we did some amazing work! Of course, in addition to all of the great changes we made to the Parks’ trails, hopefully we also made some changes in the hearts and minds of everyone who participated in an event or used one of the trails that we improved. We hope that people gain a greater appreciation for—and a sense of stewardship for—the trails and the Parks themselves, that they find common ground with people from different user groups, and that they find a greater connection with “The Wild,” both out on the trails, and inside of themselves.

Thank you so much to all of our OC Parks Partners, our Donors and especially our incredible, amazing, hard-working Volunteers!  You are making a difference!

Like laundry, trail work is never done.  We will be continuing to work on the trails throughout the summer, mostly on Thursday mornings.  If you think you have what it takes to enjoy hard manual labor in the hot blazing sun (not to mention surviving it), email Alan to be added to the Summer Trail Crew email list.  We will start up our open-to-the-public events again in October, and they will be posted on our website under the “Get Involved” tab—or follow this link.

Laguna Ridge Trail, also known as T&A, started out life as a ranch road. For many years, this trail was a favorite of the small cadre of Laguna Beach mountain bikers, and despite its steep, fall-line alignment, it stayed a stable, narrow singletrack for over a decade through the 1980s and early 1990s.

Starting with the wildfires in 1993 and culminating with the El Nino rains in 2010, a series of natural events and a dramatic increase in users began causing erosion problems along the trail. For those of you who have been riding since then, you’ve seen the trail change from a primitive, narrow singletrack to a 40-foot-wide rock-choked gully. For years up until the present day, these sections continued to widen as most trail users avoided the jumbled centerline and stayed on the margins, damaging the fragile native vegetation and further eroding the trailbed. If nothing was done, this damage would have continued to degrade both the trail itself and the surrounding habitat, possibly resulting in a complete closure of the entire trail.

OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation, working together to assess trails in the wilderness parks, identified Laguna Ridge as a top priority, and concluded that the first step in saving this trail would be to reroute the top section off of the fall-line to create a longer and more gradual grade. This would render the trail more sustainable and have the added benefit of being rideable uphill as well as down. LCF Staff worked closely with OC Parks in 2014 to design a reroute that would strike a balance between protecting the surrounding sensitive habitat and maximizing the user experience and long-term trail sustainability.

LCF volunteer crews and staff worked tirelessly through the 2015-2016 season to build the 0.3-mile reroute, only to have a wildfire burn through the area in June 2016, resulting in the closure of the trail. We stabilized the new alignment by installing erosion control measures and placing brush to prevent users from shortcutting through the burned areas. Once this work was accomplished, the trail was reopened in October 2016.

Last month (January 2017), OC Parks brought in a contractor to begin the decommissioning of the original trail alignment. The contractor used heavy equipment to break up the compacted trailbed, recontour the channelized slopes, and divert water from the old alignment to prevent further erosion. While using a backhoe to tear up a rocky slope in a wilderness park may seem extreme, it is the only practical way of addressing the scale of the damage that has been caused to this area over the life of this trail.

LCF will soon begin work with the Orange County Conservation Corps to plant and seed this area with native plants in order to restore the impacted area to healthy native habitat as required by OC Parks’ conservation mandate. We will also be working in the burned area to help protect it as it heals from the fire. We will continue to work with our dedicated trail volunteers and OC Parks to improve and maintain this trail and the rest of our trail system so that it can withstand the increasingly heavy use it receives while minimizing impacts to the surrounding habitat.

There is a lot of work to do, and we always welcome your involvement. Join us one of our upcoming trail volunteer days by emailing us at alan@lagunacanyon.org.

 

Someone asked me the other day if the South Coast Wilderness (the area around Laguna Beach comprising Laguna Coast and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks, Crystal Cove State Park and other city-owned open space areas) was actually a wilderness. Well now, that depends. What is wilderness? As is true with any word, the definition will vary depending on who you ask and in what context the word is used.

For instance, if you are using this word to refer to an area of that name protected in the United States under the Wilderness Act of 1964 (that is, “Capital-W” or “Designated” Wilderness), then the definition is:

        “… in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, … an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled [i.e., unconstrained] by man [i.e., humankind], where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

In addition to this general definition, there are specific requirements in this statute that must be met, and defined human activities that are prohibited in these areas. For instance, these areas must be free of roads and the use of mechanized equipment (such as motor vehicles, chainsaws and hang gliders) is prohibited except in special circumstances (such as a wildfire).

We can compare this formal, legal definition to a more general one (that is, Google’s):

        “An uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.”

That is, a wasteland: an area not useful to humans.

An important thing to remember is that the idea of “wilderness” is just that: an abstract concept created by western civilization and really not that long ago (less than a thousand years, or less than 2% of the existence of “behaviorally modern” humans). It was born out of the idea that humans and nature are separate from and inimical to each other. In most indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures, there is no such thing as the idea of a wilderness and humans are viewed as part of nature rather than something distinct from it.

As humans have become more and more dominant over the planet, the idea that humans and nature are distinct has become harder to maintain. For instance, invasive weeds, air pollution and climate change do not respect boundaries drawn on maps, and have definitely begun to “trammel” areas previously defined as wilderness. The increase in wildland fires and the bark beetle epidemics affecting many wildlands in the American West are a couple of the most glaring examples.

With all of this in mind, let’s look at some definitions of the root word, “wild”, to see if we can gain some more insight:

        “Wild:

        1a : living in a state of nature and not… tame or domesticated <wild ducks>

        b (1) : growing or produced without human aid or care <wild honey> (2) : related to or resembling a

                corresponding cultivated or domesticated organism…

        2a : not inhabited or cultivated <wild land>

         b : not amenable to human habitation or cultivation; also : desolate

        3a (1) : not subject to restraint or regulation : uncontrolled; also : unruly (2) : emotionally overcome

          <wild with grief>; also : passionately eager or enthusiastic <was wild to own a toy train — J. C. Furnas>

         b : marked by turbulent agitation : stormy <a wild night>

         c : going beyond normal or conventional bounds : fantastic <wild ideas>; also : sensational

         d : indicative of strong passion, desire, or emotion <a wild gleam of delight in his eyes — Irish Digest>”

        – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (highlights mine)

We see in this the ideas underpinning the above definitions of wilderness, but also a broadening of what it means to be wild that does not depend on a separateness between humans and the rest of the natural world. So if “wilderness” is a place dominated by wild things, then it is a place untamed, undomesticated, not subject to restraint, uncontrolled, unruly, where one can break free of normal or conventional bounds, and maybe even experience strong passions, desires or emotions…to find the wild within.

So, back to the original question: is the South Coast Wilderness a true wilderness?

By conventional and strict definitions, it may not qualify: There are fire roads, bicycles are permitted, and motor vehicles and other mechanized equipment are used by land managers, for instance. Also, due to the fragility of the habitats and very high visitation rates, park users are subject to many restraints on how they can use the Parks that aren’t usually present in Designated Wilderness Areas.

However, relative to its highly-developed and extremely human-dominated surroundings, the South Coast Wilderness is a wilderness indeed: a home to wild things, plant, animal and otherwise, where people can visit to re-connect with the natural world, and maybe even re-connect with the wildness that exists inside every one of us.

This year’s trail season is over, and the numbers are in – we had an amazing season!  A BIG thank you to all those who came out for volunteer days, helped to spread the word, and/or supported this program in other ways, including our TrailMix sponsors! We couldn’t do it without all of you.

Some highlights of this season included:

  • Clearing brush along the lower 2 miles of the Emerald Canyon Trail
  • Completing the reclamation of two unauthorized trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Continuing work on the Five Oaks trail at Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, including realigning some turns and building a retaining wall under one of the namesake oaks
  • Overhauling the top of Mentally Sensitive
  • Dramatically improving the drainage on Stairsteps and Old Emerald Canyon Trail
  • Completing the 0.16 mile reroute at the top of Laguna Ridge Trail

Here are the stats for this season’s accomplishments:

Number of Volunteer Events: 58 Over twice last season’s total!
Total number of Event Hours: 200 Over twice last season’s total!
Unique Volunteers: 171 Over FOUR TIMES last season’s total!
Number of Trails Worked On: 13
Total Volunteer Hours: 1201 Over twice last season’s total!
Total Hours of Trail Work (including LCF staff) 1700 Over twice last season’s total!
 Decompaction and Seeding, sqft 3000
Erosion Control Wattles Installed, linear ft 200
Naturalization, sqft 2000
Plants planted/transplanted 130
Erosion Control Features (Dips & Drains): 85 Over FOUR TIMES last season’s total!
Insloped Turns 12 Over twice last season’s total!
Switchbacks 2
Retaining Wall, block, sq ft 16
Retaining Wall, rammed earth, sq ft 150
Retaining Wall, rock, sqft 30
Retaining Wall, total, sqft 196
Tread Armored, block, linear ft 90
Tread repaired, linear ft 250
Tread, New, Constructed, linear ft 1700

In short, we crushed it!

1,200 hours of volunteer work—according to how the federal government values volunteer work, that’s a value of over $30,000! Of course, you can’t really put a dollar amount on the true value of the work we have done, when you consider the values to the trail users’ experiences, to the plants and animals whose habitat has been protected, and to the relationships that have been built.

Interested in joining us for trail season in the fall? Email Alan to join our trail volunteer email list and get involved!

Thanks to all of the volunteers who came out on November 21st to help us on the 5 Oaks Trail in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park!  We had a good-sized group due to the folks from 52 Hikes and Cal State Fullerton supplementing some of our usual suspects, and we got a lot of great work done, despite the very warm temperatures.

We focused on three main projects:

1) Saving Dirt: Our volunteers gathered and preserved over 70 bags of loose dirt that otherwise would have washed off the trail in the next rainstorm.  This dirt is a precious resource and will be used to reinforce the trail once the rains come.  It is dirty and unglamorous work, but so important!

5 Oak Trail

2) Trail narrowing: The trail bed was altered at the top of a steep turn in order to get water off of the trail bed and keep users on the best line.  This will improve the safety of this section of trail while also allowing us to revegetate a large, eroded, barren area on the inside of the turn.  Improving drainage here will also help arrest erosion occurring further down the trail.

5 Oak Trail

3) Saving the Oak: Right where the trail transitions from Coastal Sage Scrub into Oak Woodland is the first of the 5 Oaks Trail’s namesake trees.  Lines have developed on either side of this Oak, and downcutting due to water and user impacts are exposing its roots and threatening its survival.  In order to protect this tree, we began building a retaining wall.  When we complete this wall and backfill it with soil, the Oak’s roots will be protected from further erosion.  We installed the first two tiers of the wall and also redirected a small gully above that was dumping water into the trail, accelerating erosion.  We will continue working on this project on future volunteer days.

5 Oak Trail

All in all, it was an enjoyable and very productive day.  There is much more work to do on this and other trails in the Parks.  If you are interested in getting involved, please contact us at alan@lagunacanyon.org.

The Laguna Canyon Foundation staff have been busy all summer getting ready for the upcoming trail maintenance season! We have tallied up end-of-season volunteer survey results, been out in the Parks surveying trails and prioritizing projects, hosted a public Trails Forum, purchased new tools and supplies and met with Park staff to discuss our plans.

In addition to all of the regular maintenance and trail improvements we want to accomplish this season, the forecast is calling for heavier-than-average precipitation, so there will likely be plenty of storm damage to contend with as well. We will have a lot of work to do!

Here is what the schedule of Trail Stewardship Events will look like this season:

  • Regularly-scheduled Trail Stewardship Volunteer Events will begin in October. They will continue to be on 2nd Sundays at Laguna Coast Wilderness and 4th Saturdays at Aliso & Woods Canyon (with some exceptions to avoid holiday weekends or reschedule rained-out events). The first days at each park (October 11th and the 24th) will include a short introduction to the program, a quick review of proper tool use and maintenance and basic trail design principles, and then we will get out on the trail and do some work.
  • We will also be meeting to do trail work in the park more regularly during the week this season. We will start meeting each Thursday, beginning on September 17th. This group will be doing prep work to get the trails ready for the first big storm, such as bagging and caching dirt, staging building materials and putting in critical drainage features to prevent further damage to our trails. Once the rains hit, this group will morph into our “Rapid Response Team” to address any major storm damage that might occur. This group will also help to prepare for upcoming volunteer events so that we can get the most out of them.
  • We will also be putting more energy into outreach for these events this season, including posting them along with the other Park activities on the LCF and OCParks websites, regular updates on our Facebook Page, flyers and more. Please help us by spreading the word far and wide!

By the way, here are some of the accomplishments from last season:

  • Volunteer Events: 25
  • Hours of  Volunteer Work: 500+
  • Unique Volunteers engaged: 44
  • Brushing, ft: 3,500
  • Materials transported/cached, lbs: 3,550
  • Grade dips: 17
  • Berm Turns: 5
  • Retaining Wall, ft: 4
  • Tread Smoothing/Repair, ft: 430
  • Misc. structures: 2
  • New Authorized Trails: 1!

Thanks to all of the volunteers and partners who helped to make last season such a success, despite the weather-related challenges! We hope to build on those successes to make this coming season even bigger and better!

If you are interested in giving back to the Parks, learning more about your Parks and your trail system, and being a part of a hard-working team, please contact us at alan@lagunacanyon.org to learn more about joining the LCF Trail Stewardship Program.

We look forward to hearing from you!