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Great news! Lizard trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is open! This awesome single-track connects Bommer Ridge with Upper Laurel, and is sure to be a popular destination for everyone who bikes and hikes in the park.

The Native Plant Nursery and the volunteers that work there are an invaluable part of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The nursery team works with the Laguna Canyon Foundation and OC parks to determine what the native plant needs are for the coming planned native plant restoration projects. The team works through the plant growing cycles to determine when to collect seed within the park to propagate native plants for restoration. There is also a tree and shrub structure where trees such as Coast Live Oak and Sycamores can be grown. In addition to plant propagation there are many duties to maintain a successful nursery. The nursery team also keeps the nursery running by maintaining the watering system and grounds around the nursery.

The LCF Native Plant Nursery team consists of many volunteers and LCF staff. The following volunteers work in the nursery; Drew Delaney, Rodney Ferguson, Dave Randel, Sarah Jayne, Chuck Wright, Paul Doyle, Kendra Jones, Colin Crofts, Kelly Geary and Robert Kerman. The following LCF staff work at the nursery as well; Matthew Sutton, Gigi Harvey and Alan Kaufmann.

Through our nursery teams efforts we are able to provide many of the native plants for restoration projects such as “Keep It Wild” days. Our regular volunteers and community volunteers come together to work on these important restoration projects several times a year, usually monthly. The nursery and the volunteers that work there are an invaluable part of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. Without the native plant nursery many of the restoration projects at the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park would not be possible. This is why our volunteers are so important to our parks!

Background: Lizard, in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, is used by many and loved by all. This popular but unauthorized trail provides a loop between Bommer Ridge and Laurel Spur, and is known for its tight single track and varied terrain.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of OC Parks, Lizard is the first trail to be added to the authorized trail system since Laguna Coast Wilderness Park opened in 1993. Laguna Canyon Foundation’s trail team has been hard at work to make Lizard sustainable before it’s open to the public. We installed grade reversals and drain dips to get water off the trail and limit erosion. We banked and bermed turns to help keep bikes on the trail bed, and we armored the steeper sections to prevent erosion. We also aggressively planted the sides of the trail to help preserve the wilderness feel of this single-track.

As part of the process to add this trail to the authorized system, it needs to be approved by the regulatory agencies that monitor wildlife and wilderness parks. And unfortunately, because this is the first time a trail has ever been added to an existing wilderness trail system in Orange County, we’ve needed to be extra careful to make sure we are going through every step possible to ensure the habitat is protected.

We anticipate that Lizard will open in the Spring of 2015.

We were recently featured on Channel 6 News! Check it out here!

It’s good to know that we have many eyes out in our wilderness areas, watching out for new outbreaks of invasive plants that threaten our local plants and wildlife. For example, on March 11 th, California Native Plant Society biologists reported to Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) that two newly observed populations of Sahara mustard, an invasive species, were spotted in Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks.

That same day, IRC biologists contacted several land management agencies, including Orange County Parks (OC Parks) and Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF), about these mettlesome plants. Once we got word of these mustard populations, staff and volunteers with LCF, OC Parks and The Nature Conservancy joined forces to remove over twenty 55-gallon bags of pulled mustard between March 14 and 19 at two different sites. Additionally, members of the CNPS and volunteers with IRC lent hands in removing these weeds.

This is a success story for two reasons. First, this report demonstrates how effectively volunteers and biologists with various organizations can mobilize quickly to address a threat to our environment. Second, had we not acted quickly, these mustard populations would have increased even more as many of the plants were almost ready to go to seed. By responding efficiently, we increased the likelihood that these populations won’t continue to spread.

What makes Sahara mustard such a problematic weed is that it generates many seeds, inhibits the growth of native species, and poses a fire hazard in wilderness areas. A large mustard plant can generate up to 16,000 seeds. When seeds do germinate, the seedlings grow quickly and outcompete native plants for light and soil moisture. Finally, when these annual plants die they form a tumbleweed that is a fire hazard.

We count our efforts a success, even though we did not remove every individual of Sahara mustard. The Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society can count this removal effort as a successful example of their new invasive plant management program to identify occurrences of invasive plants and work rapidly with local land managers to stamp out a new population before it explodes out of control.

One indication of how important it is to control Sahara mustard can be observed in California’s Sonoran and Mojave deserts. According to Darren Sandquist, Professor of Biology at California State University, Fullerton, “Sahara mustard is the bain of the desert”. He went on to state that although its not certain if this invasive species will get the same foothold in our coastal sage scrub habitat as it has in the desert, “We don’t want to ever find out.”

The Laguna Canyon Foundation (LCF) and Orange County Conservation Corps (OCCC), in cooperation with the City of Laguna Beach (City), have taken steps to augment City restoration of the Dewitt property in a way that will improve slope stability in graded or denuded areas (including former staging areas) through the planting of drought-tolerant container plants and otherwise enhance the native plant community in that area. The Project was and is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the City fully complied with CEQA by issuing a Notice of Exemption pursuant to Section of the CEQA Guidelines.

These extraordinary restoration efforts have been funded by a State of California EDRIP (Emergency Drought Response Implementation Plan) applied for by LCF and OCCC. The EDRIP Grant provided $100,000 that was initially used to fund the labor necessary to eradicate non-native invasive species and reduce fire-prone deadwood and thatch. The remaining grant funds were used to purchase the plant material and fund the labor needed to install drought tolerant native vegetation that will significantly improve slope stability as well as the ecological integrity of the habitat. These efforts were facilitated by the City and complement and expand on the City’s restoration of areas impacted by the removal of more than 15,000 cubic yards of hazardous material.