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Fill in the blank: American __________

Flag! Citizen! Express! Apparel!

Not many guesses would be American…Badger and do you know why? Cuz they’re not here anymore.

At Laguna Canyon Foundation, our staff, volunteers, board and community strive to protect and preserve the South Coast Wilderness. This land, which literally encircles Laguna Beach, makes Laguna Beach unique and far more than just another beach town.

Native populations of wildlife struggle against a combination of predator control, rodent poisoning, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation – meaning we, as humans, might plow through their space with anything from unauthorized (social) trails to domestic dog walking to roads and urban development.

The American Badger hasn’t been sighted in the South Coast Wilderness in decades. The last local verified sighting was in 2014, near Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Little research exists on the Southern California badger population, but experts agree that its population decline is likely due to urban development of housing, highways and overall habitat encroachment.

Let’s add to the list of the gone or going…

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, used to roam the South Coast Wilderness. It is estimated that a single cougar needs, at a minimum, 10 square miles of hunting habitat, though given the chance their range can extend over hundreds of miles. Our South Coast Wilderness, checkered with habitat fragmentation, is about 22,000 acres (or approximately 34 square miles). Add to that the biggest social trails of the 5 and 405 freeways bifurcating the coast and its neighboring mountain ranges (San Jacinto, San Bernardino and San Gabriel), and any cat would have a tough go of getting here, let alone surviving. The last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion here was 2001.

Gray Fox. It is true, through OC Parks partnering with nonprofit organizations to track wildlife through motion-detecting cameras, that one gray fox has been seen recently in the South Coast Wilderness – one. Are there more? Based on tracking, scat, and other evidence, most experts say it is highly unlikely. While gray foxes are solitary most of each year, both male and female will share in the raising their kits. Does this gray fox have a mate? Does it have a chance of finding a mate? We don’t know.

Big-Leaved Crownbeard (Verbesina dissita). Sounds a bit like some old-man plant, but it is a rare, beautiful semi-woody shrub with bright yellow flowers. It is a California threatened plant species protected by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and is found in and around Laguna Beach. Our ecosystem counts on biodiversity and, as we lose native habitat, so we lose our diverse wildlife.

Other species that once called the South Coast Wilderness home but are now no longer here include the spotted skunk and the black bear. And there are a multitude of native plants on the brink as well, including the Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stoloniferea).

It takes time, commitment, patience and research to undo a population decline. Take the California condor. In the 20th century, due to habitat loss, poisoning (in this case, lead from the shot remaining in the carcasses of hunted animals), and pesticides (in this case DDT), the California condor population dropped to just 22 individuals in the 1980s, all in captivity. Through a shared effort among scientists, legislators, and concerned citizens, through breeding programs and regulations to eliminate use of harmful pesticides, the population was brought up to its current numbers. There are about 140 now flying free in California.

While hiking in Laurel Canyon recently, I was stunned when a geologist, who, let’s remember, thinks in terms of millennia, mused that even with climate change, pollution, and warming seas, Mother Earth will be “…just fine. She will survive,” he said. Then he added, “…maybe not the way we would want, with the beauty and life we see now, but she’ll be here.”

Hmm. Brings new meaning to Newton’s law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

If we build roads and housing developments, lo, even if we just create a “new” trail, we fragment wildlife habitat. If we kill predators, say, coyote, we get an overpopulation of rodents, say gophers, who mess up our yards, so we use pesticides, which get in our food webs and into our oceans, creating disease and death for animal and plant life.

We are part of Mother Earth; we belong here, too. As such, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve for generations to come.

Every one of our actions – every one – has an equal and opposite reaction.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are…!” – Hamilton

Today, April 6, is California Poppy Day. Those of us who grew up in California know that when we see poppies starting to bloom, spring is here. Driving up the coast or hiking in the hills, orange is everywhere. Having learned in my SoCal elementary school (way back in the day) that it is our state flower, the sight of poppies always gives me a great sense of pride for “my” beautiful state, California.

The California poppy, with its bright orange and gold colors, generally opens only in bright sun and represents California well: California’s beautiful orange sunsets; California’s gold rush; our very own Orange County. The color orange is composed of equal parts of red (energy) and yellow (happiness). And while many outside of California might think of us as a little laid-back, I’d like to think, living in this wonderful place, we simply have a great balance of energy and happiness.

Even its many names give homage to the California poppy’s brightness and light: golden poppy, California sunlight, and copa de oro (cup of gold).

So it wasn’t a surprise that back in 1890 when the California State Floral Society held an election to determine California’s state flower, the California poppy was a home run winner over the other two beautiful flowers in the running: the matilija poppy and the mariposa lily. In 1903, the California legislature officially named the California poppy our state flower.

And, even before that “official” proceeding, local Native Americans, keenly sensitive to their land, knew the value of the poppies. They used the plant parts in various ways to alleviate aches and pains and as an anti-anxiety remedy.

It should be noted that although the California poppy is a distant cousin to the opium poppy, the California Poppy contains no opiates. WebMD states the California poppy contains chemicals that may cause relaxation.

Where do we see them?

California poppies grow in southern California, of course, as well as desert areas such as the Mojave Desert. They are seen as far north as southern Washington and as far south as Baja, Mexico.

When do we see them?

While usually the biggest bloom is in the spring, California poppies can flower from February through September, sometimes longer, depending on the weather and rain.

What are those things?

The California poppy plant has green-grey leaves. The flower buds under calyx cap. The calyx cap lifts off as the flower blossoms, exposing a furled flower ready to open. The California poppy closes, as a defense mechanism, if it becomes cloudy, opening again to the sun. How California cool is that!?! And, if you’re wondering what that longer “bud” (not really a bud) is, it is the poppy’s seed pod.

The California poppy lives up to its sunshine hype. “Look Around, Look Around…” Find a field of them and it will surely give you happiness and energy.


Happy California Poppy Day!

What Smells?

After all this glorious rain, the canyon is alive with earthy scents that linger in the cool, moist air of the trails. One of the many experiences that Laguna Canyon Foundation’s educators share with the young students as they hike through the canyon is what to smell: white sage (pictured), California sagebrush, everlasting, and bladderpod, just to name a few.

The educators teach the children how the local Native Americans, the Acjachemen, used white sage as a purifying incense at ceremonies and gatherings (and still do today). “Tar,” “cannabis,” and “lemon” are some of the words used to describe the scent of white sage. Quite a variety, right? And that is the beauty of the whole olfactory experience. We all sense scents differently.

The Acjachemen used California sagebrush as insect repellent and as bedding to drive away fleas. Folklore has it that it was also used by cowboys to mask their sweaty body odor after a long day herding cattle, thus its nickname “cowboy cologne.” For the most part, California sagebrush gets the children’s top vote for the best smelling. “Kinda minty,” says one student. “Smells like something my mom uses in the kitchen,” says another.

Everlasting, also known as cudweed, has a very interesting name as well as an interesting scent. Most people think of maple syrup when they smell it; a few think of vanilla. Recently, a fifth grade student, Angel, said it smelled like a pencil, to which the educator gave him a high five. “I get that connection,” she said. “A pencil is made from wood, or bark; maple syrup comes from wood and bark.”


What Stinks?

Then there are the less celebrated creatures and plants of the canyon that may rival in pungency but don’t get as much love, because frankly, they stink.

When hiking by a bladderpod, the students chuckle at the name and the “bladders” dangling from its stems. Most don’t like the smell, which has been likened to “burnt hair” and “burnt popcorn,” but, the educators explain, the bladderpod is a source of pollen for bees, nectar for hummingbirds, and shade for many animals, providing vital resources for the ecosystem.

If you’ve ever hiked in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you’ve likely seen the stink beetle – a long-legged black bug about an inch in length – usually wandering around a little aimlessly. Most of the children will scream when they see it or try to poke it, which, of course, the educators forbid. With all the commotion, the stink beetle will do what stink beetles do: stick up its hind end into the air, as if doing a headstand, ready to squirt its chemical-smelling liquid to ward off predators. The scene turns into yet another teaching moment. The students learn that stink beetles, with their rather humble moniker, provide a great service in the open space. They are decomposers, breaking down organic matter, including animal waste.

Who wouldn’t take the dare to grab a big whiff of a plant called stinking gourd? Most of us would shun the idea, and with good reason. You don’t have to be anywhere close to that plant to smell what some describe as “dirty socks,” “body odor,” and “sulfur.” But, as with all native plants in our open space, stinking gourd has its role. The Acjachemen used its seeds for meal and its roots as soap. Sometimes called the “coyote gourd,” its fruit is a source of food for the coyote.


Stinks? Smells? Potato? Potahto?

With all our social media use, we can share much, including many of the beautiful sights and sounds of the open space. We cannot share smells digitally. That experience needs to be in person. So, go smell for yourself! What stinks to some is beautiful perfume to others. As the saying goes, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla.”

Last month, Laguna Canyon Foundation was awarded a $5,000 grant for the South Coast Wilderness Education Program from the Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund! Disneyland Resort’s Director of Workforce Management and long-time LCF volunteer Arland Van Horn presented the check to LCF’s Board.

The Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund program offers a means to give Disney Cast Members (employees) direct involvement in the distribution of charitable funds that they personally contribute. Ms. Van Horn explains, “Each participating Cast Member contributes what they can through direct payroll deductions.  A Leadership Counsel of Cast Members reviewed a large number of grant applications and awarded Laguna Canyon Foundation $5,000. It makes me proud to be a part of both organizations.”

The VoluntEARS Community Fund grant is invitation-only; only organizations nominated by a Disneyland Resort Cast Member personally affiliated with the organization are eligible to apply.

“We are thrilled, and so grateful for Arland’s vote of confidence,” said Hallie Jones, LCF’s Executive Director. “Our education program inspires environmental advocacy and love for the wilderness in the next generation, and Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund’s support will help make that possible.”

Each year, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education program brings more than 4,500 second through fifth grade students from Orange County Title 1 schools for free field trips into our open space. Our hands-on, standards-based program allows children to hike, explore native plants, see wildlife, and learn about conservation and preservation. Each field trip supports the Next Generation State Science Standards, and focuses on grade-specific topics, including art in nature, adaptations, geology, fitness and nutrition.

Thank you Arland, Disney VoluntEARS, and all of our fantastic supporters and volunteers!

The first time I hiked on Lynx trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park was just last week. It is a steep, rocky, view-rich path between West Ridge trail and Wood Creek, and clearly, it has been cared for. There were drainage efforts and tread improvements to keep hikers on the trail and water off the trail. 

I’ve lived in Laguna Beach for the past thirteen years and was born and raised in Southern California. You’d think I might have known about Lynx, this beautiful treasure of a trail, years ago, but I did not.

As the newly hired Outreach Manager for Laguna Canyon Foundation, I hike with elementary school children weekly in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, on well-kept, safe, trash free [almost] trails: Stagecoach South, Laurel Canyon, Canyon, Sunflower, Lake, and Little Sycamore, to name a few.

For those of us who live in proximity to these two parks – part of the South Coast Wilderness stretching from Newport Beach to Aliso Viejo – we might not yet know the intimate beauty of the parks: the metamorphic rock formations; the shade of the coast live oak and scent of sage; the sighting of a deer, roadrunner or bobcat; but we do know of its great beauty simply by driving down the 133 and 73, along Aliso Viejo’s Wood Canyon Drive or Laguna Niguel’s Pacific Park Drive.

These protected lands improve our lives as well as our home values. Says Ed McMahon, a Washington D.C.-based expert on open space: “Open space really contributes to the image of a community. The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well-being.”

One may wonder, then, how is it that this land is preserved and maintained as well as it is when an estimated 500,000 people visit each year to hike, bike, paint and photograph?

“It is a never-ending project, as you can well imagine,” says Hallie Jones, Executive Director of Laguna Canyon Foundation. “Laguna Canyon Foundation’s mission is to protect and preserve our open space, and with 70 miles of trails and 22,000 acres of wilderness, we have our work cut out for us. It is our volunteers who inspire us with their commitment and hard work.”

Indeed, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s certified, long-term volunteers served more 7,600 hours in 2016. Their work included:

  • Greeting park visitors at the trailheads to answer questions, explain park protocols and offer fun facts about the open space
  • Working closely with OC Parks’ small maintenance staff to maintain authorized trails and reduce social (unauthorized) trails to #KeepItWild
  • Pulling invasive plants, improving trails, and planting native plants and seeds during regular trail maintenance and restoration events
  • Working closely with OC Park Rangers to patrol the park and assist guests needing directions, water or bit of trail advice
  • Leading a variety of bike rides, nursery and plant care events, and hikes – yoga, geology, fitness, educational, child-friendly – to help enhance the visitors’ enjoyment and understanding of the open space

In addition, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s short-term volunteers, those who come, from time to time, to our trail events to pick up trash, plant, weed, water and shore up trails, logged more than 2,000 hours.

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, said to the International Union for Conservation of Nature:

“In the end, we will conserve what we love;
 we will love only what we understand;
and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s volunteers spread the message of preservation and conservation with kindness, knowledge and a bit of fun. They love the land and it shows. We are forever grateful for the volunteers’ support.

So, whether you ever step foot in the open space to explore trails new to you or prefer to enjoy the beauty from a distance, thank a volunteer for helping #ProtectWhatYouLove.

Happy Holidays.

While participating in Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education program last week, a third grade class, hiking along the Lake Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, could barely keep silent as they spotted a bunny. Their hands went up as they flexed their fingers, signaling that an animal was near. They knew to whisper and keep as quiet as they could, so as not to frighten the animal and allow their fellow students to observe. The bunny stood very still, almost impossible to see, for just moments, and then scurried off behind the bushes.

From September through June each year, at several staging areas in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education staff hosts up to 80 field trips for Title One elementary school students. With the support of grants and our generous donors, more than 4,500 students get the opportunity to explore and learn about our wonderful open spaces every year. These children have seen many inhabitants of the canyon, including rabbits, deer, snakes, gophers, lizards, roadrunners, coyotes, and raptors and other birds.

Last week’s bunny sighting was the perfect opportunity to learn about camouflage and adaptations. The students played a “Predator and Prey” game under the 133 bridge, having fun and learning about survival, before moving on to Barbara’s Lake. Along the way the students smelled white sage and learned about the importance of coast live oak to the survival of the Native American Acjahemen tribe.

At Barbara’s Lake, now dry, they learned about the drought and water conservation. Students were asked how each of us could save water. Seeing the parched lake, the concerned students had many suggestions: take shorter showers, don’t let the water run in the bathroom and kitchen, and use any leftover drinking water for plants and pets rather than just throwing it down the drain.

Tailored per grade level, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s programs teach students about art in nature, adaptations, geology, nutrition, and, of course, conservation and preservation. In the midst of a beautiful hike, children learn to pick up trash, stay on the trails and respect the animals’ home.

After pointing out to the class many plants along the trails, the educator asked, “What is a native plant?”

The attentive students thought for a bit, then one student, Samantha, raised her hand. “It’s a plant that belongs here.”

Indeed – and that is what Laguna Canyon Foundation’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program aims to instill: a sense of belonging. Each of us – along with the plants and animals of the canyon – belong here. This is all of our land to care for, share, and pass on to the next generation.

Thank you to our generous education supporters, including the Cultural Vision Fund and the AHE/CI Trust (both in memory of Elizabeth E. Fleming), the Annenberg Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the Schlinger Foundation, and Marcia Tilker.

Interested in supporting the South Coast Wilderness Education Program? Donate today, or email us for more information.

As we continue through this November heat wave, it’s nice to remember that we did recently have rain. Please enjoy this poem by one of our fabulous volunteers, Chuck Wright. Not only is he a poet and a photographer (enjoy his photo of a Western Fence Lizard above), he dedicates countless hours to restoring our open spaces — whatever the weather may be.

Thank you, Chuck.



the busy operator or robot
“Please hold”
and then you wait and wait and wait

nature has been put
“on hold”

no water
no dew
no moisture

and then last week it came
glorious rain

.3 on an inch in LCWP
on the north facing slope
barbara’s lake hill

restoration site

i gape in wonder &
like it is supposed to be GREEN

bryophytes galore
mosses green & plump
and ferns with fronds at
least an inch long

oh i
hope the pause
of the “please
will be no
let there be
green green green


Laguna Canyon Foundation was formed to preserve and protect the South Coast Wilderness. We accomplish this through unique partnerships with land managers, City and County leadership, park users and the environmental community. Together, we can #keepitwild and #protectwhatyoulove.

If you have ever taken a hike or a ride in Aliso and Woods Canyons or in Laguna Coast Wilderness or even driven by the open space, then you’ve seen the rich and diverse ecosystem we are privileged to live near. We have a collective responsibility to ensure the inhabitants – both plants and animals – have their place to call home.

Coyotes have been in North America for thousands of years and, because of regular encroachment to their habitat, coyotes remain very adaptable.  The coyotes’ preferred space is the open grassland, but they will, of course, go where there is food.  They are omnivores with an excellent sense of smell and they are skilled hunters.  Coyotes are nocturnal animals; however, if outside forces (including humans) cause imbalance in their environment and adaptation is necessary, coyotes will hunt during the day.

Coyotes are loyal, often mating for years to raise pups, which are birthed every spring (April/May).  Coyotes’ social organization is built around the mated pair and includes packs, solitary residents, and nomads.

The name coyote is a Spanish derivative of the original Aztec name, coyotl, which means “barking dog.”  Coyotes communicate with howls, yelps and huffs.  Local Laguna residents often describe the sound as “lighting up with the canyon” with coyote song.  When a coyote howls, it is communicating its location to other coyotes.  Yelps often mean celebration or discipline with pups and adolescents.  Huffing is a coyote’s whisper to its young.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife have an initiative called, “Keep Me Wild.” Its slogan is:  “Wild animals don’t need your handouts.  They need your respect.” How fitting as Laguna Canyon Foundation strives to #KeepItWild.   As stated on the CDFW’s website:

 [We] may not realize it … but a simple bag of garbage, bowl of pet food, or plate of leftovers left outside our home or in a neighboring park can cause severe harm to wildlife.  Most wild animals keep their distance – so long as they remain fully wild. 

If coyotes lose their natural fear of humans, they become bolder, less wild, and more dependent on us.  A few tips to #keepitwild:

  • If you see a coyote near you, haze it.  Make loud noises and big gestures. If you have a jacket, wave it like a cape, making yourself big. If necessary, throw rocks near the coyote.
  • When walking your dogs, keep them on a leash.  Coyotes are clever and can lure domestic dogs to a vulnerable place where you cannot protect your pet.
  • Seal garbage cans; pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.  Do not leave trash anywhere.
  • Install motion sensitive lighting around your house and switch up its location from time to time. Remember, coyotes are smart.
  • Above all, keep your pets inside! An outdoor cat or small dog left alone in a yard is a prime target for hunting coyotes.

For more tips and information, talk to an OC Park Ranger, visit the Nix Nature Center or go to:




Please join us for Laguna Canyon Foundation’s and OC Parks’ volunteer orientation program and meet other fabulous volunteers, Laguna Canyon Foundation staff and OC Park Rangers!

Sunday, June 5, 2016
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Nix Nature Center
18751 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, California 92651

Amid breathtaking views, you will learn about:

  • Laguna Canyon Foundation’s history and mission
  • OC Parks’ history and mission
  • Basics of volunteering:  paperwork, policies and requirements
  • How you can make a difference and #keepitwild

Our open space is so beautiful and there are many ways you can volunteer:

  • WAVing! (Wilderness Advocate Volunteer). Spend a few hours at trailheads sharing your knowledge of trails, wildlife and plants with visitors.
    • Willow
    • Big Bend
    • Nix
    • Dilley
    • Alta Laguna
    • … and more!
  • Assisting OC park rangers in Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks
  • Leading hikes and rides
  • Restoring and maintaining trails
  • Working in the nursery to propagate native plants
  • Assisting staff with administrative work

To reserve your space at the Orientation, please email paula@lagunacanyon.org with your full name, phone number and city of residence.

As a park volunteer, you can assist with protecting, preserving, enhancing and promoting the natural beauty of over 22,000 acres of the South Coast Wilderness.

Join us and protect what you love!