Many are surprised to hear that, second only to direct habitat destruction, invasive species pose the greatest global risk to biodiversity. Introduced from areas all around the world, these species lack natural controls in their new environments, allowing them to proliferate, out-compete natives, and change the nature of entire ecosystems. Their detrimental effects come in all shapes and sizes – from the Brown-headed Cowbird parasitizing the nests of our federally threatened Coastal Gnatcatcher, to dense swaths of black mustard displacing precious native habitat and food resources.

The timeline in which an invasive species establishes itself in a novel environment directly affects how well it can be controlled. Black mustard, for example, will likely never be fully extirpated from Orange County. Believed to have been introduced to California in the era of Spanish missionaries, it has had centuries to spread and reproduce, accumulating a countless number of seeds in our soils. Accordingly, for the management of an established invasive like black mustard, local containment is the only realistic possibility. On the bright side, however, the full eradication of an invasive species is entirely possible if they are detected early enough.

Prominent local botanist Ron Vanderhoff and the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society currently recognize around 20 plant species as “Emergent Invasives.” They are of particular priority in our open spaces, because their populations are still very small, if present at all. This means they have the greatest potential to be effectively controlled and eradicated. To do so, early detection of these plants is vital!

Our volunteer Invasive Plant Patrol (IPP) does just that. Simplified, the IPP is a program that gets certified, long-term volunteers out on the trails, patrolling areas in our parks with the highest probability of having new infestations of these emergent weeds. Along the way, they learn about native, non-native, and invasive plants, weed treatment strategies, and all about Calflora, the database we use to share plant observations with local land managers and plant lovers. Volunteers don’t need to be plant experts – ID guides for the emergent weeds are provided and the learning curve is smooth. The IPP is for all experience levels!

As someone who spends most of the work week in the field, the thing that excites me most about the recent rains is the prospect of finding new and strange plants popping up in places I’ve never seen them before. You can find me in the open spaces any day of the week on my hands and knees, examining seedlings and hoping to find something interesting. Compared to last year’s relatively minimal precipitation and seedling germination, this year is on course to be the wildflower lover’s absolute dream! But with that also comes the possibility of the introduction of new weeds. Our Invasive Plant Patrol will be out and about, on the alert for these potential invaders. Interested in joining the team? Joining us for one of our public volunteer events is a great place to start. Pull some weeds or help repair a trail, and get to know LCF and what we’re all about. And for certified volunteers, the next IPP event will take place on April 16th.

For more information on the current emergent weeds of Orange County, check these resources out:

https://www.calflora.org//app/ipl?list_id=px388

https://www.occnps.org/invasives/emergent-invasive-plant-management-program.html

Each year, Orange County Parks hosts a volunteer appreciation barbecue. Rangers and other OC Parks staff highlight selected volunteers who serve in their respective parks. Those personally recognized for their past year of service represent a much larger group of volunteers across OC Parks, dedicated to preserving and protecting our parks, beaches and other county treasures.

Laguna Canyon Foundation is the supporting agent for Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, and selected special project areas. While we welcome anyone at our one-day public volunteer events, we also offer volunteer certification for those wanting to volunteer on a more long-term basis. Certification requires attending orientation and interpretation training, passing a background check, obtaining CPR/First Aid certification, and spending time with a mentor to earn OC Parks’ Facilities Certification. Collectively, our certified, long-term volunteers served more than 7,000 hours last year alone.

Over the time of their service, a few volunteers become – literally – experts in their fields. After receiving their initial certification, they seek out additional specialized training as they find a niche that is both fulfilling to them and extraordinarily helpful to OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation.

Areas of specialization include:

Restoration and Stewardship

Each year, a group of tireless volunteers scour the parks for specific invasive plant species. In close coordination with OC Parks, over the course of a season, these volunteers may remove over 500 bags of plants that would otherwise hijack the resources that native flora and fauna need to thrive. In addition, you may see stationary restoration sites at Big Bend, Dilley Preserve, Pecten Reef, and Aliso & Wood Canyons Headquarters. Not only do our certified volunteers steward these areas, they are a great place for short-term volunteers to receive hands-on restoration experience.

Wildlife Camera Project

A band of trained volunteers work closely with OC Parks to manage wildlife cameras, scout for tracks and scat, and catalog photos. This is time-consuming but rewarding work, as it gives us a window into how the local fauna is faring, and from time to time, a most amazing photograph of a bobcat, deer or coyote pup.

Trail Stewardship

A handful of long-term, certified volunteers have spent countless hours with Laguna Canyon Foundation and OC Parks learning what is needed to repair and maintain trails. Many started as short-term volunteers at a Laguna Canyon Foundation trail stewardship event and moved on to certification. As their interest and skills grow, they continue their commitment with OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation, serving at public programs and occasionally on special trail projects.

Specialty Hikes and Rides

Passions such as mountain biking and learning about native wildlife lead some of our long-term volunteers to share their expertise with others through volunteer-guided programs. We have volunteer bikers who have ridden both the world’s trails and our local trails – extensively. They lead rides for beginners as well as more advanced bikers, with patience, skill and local knowledge. Certified volunteers often develop a deep understanding of the native flora and fauna over time, sharing that knowledge on hikes and through photographs published on social media, on LCF’s website and in the local newspapers.

Park Ambassadors, Backcountry Patrol,Ranger Reserve and Fire Watch

These are certified volunteers who are out regularly during the week, and especially on the weekends, working alongside park staff at the trailheads and on the trails assisting park visitors and alerting the rangers of potential issues. As the volunteers’ knowledge grows, they serve as additional “eyes and ears” for the rangers – invaluable, considering the massive size of the South Coast Wilderness.

As you hike, ride or stroll through the parks, you will recognize these hardworking and long-term volunteers in the parks. They will be wearing LCF/OC Parks attire and badges and are often seen side by side with OC Parks staff.

OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation rely on our trained, skilled and knowledgeable volunteers. We are land stewards; we are also educators and naturalists guiding those who recreate in the wilderness towards a fuller knowledge and respect for the native plants and animals.

Together, we can both enjoy the open space and protect it.

If you would like to take the first steps in becoming a long-term, certified volunteer, come join us for an upcoming event. Introduce yourself! We’d love to meet you.

After four consecutive days of rain this month, bringing a record 4.5 inches within ten days, OC Parks Rangers made the tough call to close the trails of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. It was a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday) and it was expected to be sunny on both Saturday and Sunday.

Why?

That was the big question asked by many hikers, bikers and photographers as they were turned away at the trailheads and gates. Working with the OC Parks rangers, dozens of Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers staffed several gates and trailheads to let visitors know of the closures.

Under a blue sky, I staffed Top of the World for several hours, turning away hundreds of guests. One disappointed park visitor commented, “I’m from Portland and have never heard of a trail closure because of rain.”

I explained that many parts of the trails are still muddy and slick, even after a few sunny days. The trails can be dangerous for hikers and bikers. In addition, we want to give the habitat time to soak up all the moisture we received.

It was heartwarming when folks asked additional questions and were eager to learn more, perhaps even debate a bit. “We could walk around the mud, right?” “Could we go over there where it seems dry?”

Together a few visitors and I went down that path of conversation: We agreed that there are muddy spots still on the trails, as there were clearly puddles in our view.

These pictures of the trails were taken on January 23rd – five days after the rain.

So, let’s just consider one dense muddy spot in the center of the trail: after one user passes through, they now have mud caked onto their boots or tires. Then another user passes through, more mud leaves that spot, and this continues until there is now a hole where the muddy spot used to be. The hole then fills with water with the next rain or misty morning, creating a deeper muddy spot. The cycle continues, not giving the trail time to heal and dry up.

Over time, the trail becomes unwelcoming, tempting bikers and hikers to go around the hole, creating new paths through fragile vegetation where the seeds of spring’s wildflowers are working their way to the surface to germinate.

Then, all of us park users, collectively and, likely unknowingly, widen the trails, which contributes to further habitat fragmentation, encroaching on the wilderness and threatening native wildlife.

And, after all, we know our wilderness parks are preserved as open space for the native flora and fauna. This is a priority to the rangers and must be a priority to us as well, as we responsibly and respectfully recreate only when the parks are open.

Reports back from our volunteers who staffed the gate closures confirmed that visitors, for the most part, understood and were willing to wait to enjoy the trails on another day. We are grateful for their support.

Hmmm, but back to the Portlander’s comment. She got me thinking. I’ve experienced exactly what she was saying. Up at Humboldt, California, where I went to college and visited with my husband just last April, we were able to hike in the rain on beautiful forested trails juxtaposed to an Arcata neighborhood, much like Laguna Beach and Top of the World. There were no park closures there and it had rained for days.

Why?

One word: habitat. Our local coastal sage scrub habitat is very different from the redwood forests of Humboldt or coniferous forests of Portland. We don’t get rain as often, and when we do, there is less root structure to secure plants, less leaf litter to mitigate mud, and entirely different soil that takes longer to properly absorb moisture. Our growing season is shorter, and we have much lower average precipitation, so our vegetation grows back slowly.

Our local habitat is unique. So protect what we love. Let’s stay off the trails when parks are closed, respect the rangers’ expertise, and pause to enjoy the canyon views from a distance. This preserves the open space not only for the native plants and animals that call it home, but for us who enjoy it so much.

Want to learn more about the animals that live here? Check out this recent Stu News article, featuring photographs taken by LCF volunteer John Foley.

Years ago, inspired by one of the most awesome gifts my dad ever gave me – a Bianchi road bike – I became obsessed with biking. I rode around Palos Verdes Peninsula almost every weekend. Back then, I didn’t wear a helmet or sunscreen. I frequently rode alone; my route was out of Malaga Cove on Palos Verdes Drives West, South, East and home on Palos Verdes Drive North. No matter how many times I pedaled up Palos Verdes Drive East, my endurance was challenged. Huffing and puffing, I muscled to the peak, so I could sit back, let go of the handlebars, grab some water, and sail down for the rest of the ride. Twenty-four miles of sheer pleasure.

This past summer, I got back into biking – mountain biking, to be specific – on a used hardtail Leader I recently purchased.

As the saying goes, “It’s just like riding a bike,” right?

Well, no. And I learned that the hard way when after huffing and puffing up a dirt trail, I sat up to grab some water and cruise down the incline – feeling pretty proud of myself – instead of focusing on the quick turns, changing soil and protruding toyon branches that lay before me. I braked hard for a rock that came out of nowhere and nearly fell into a cholla.

It was time for me to acknowledge that I needed some guidance.

On the third Sunday of each month in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, several Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers lead two rides: Introduction to Mountain Biking and Intermediate Mountain Biking. Andre and Karin Lotz, Heather Hawke, Fernando GenKuong and Shawn Biglari are very experienced riders. They are CPR trained, are certified by OC Parks staff, and know the trails. Most importantly, they are fabulous and patient teachers. The two rides are scheduled at the same time so that the leaders can welcome all participants, ensure everyone has helmets and necessary equipment, and determine who will lead which ride.

For December’s ride, I arrived at Aliso and Wood Canyons not as a Laguna Canyon Foundation staffer, but as a mountain biker, ready to learn. Since all the riders that showed up that morning wanted to go on the intermediate ride, Karin graciously offer to take me on the intro ride, which was my preference. What a wonderful experience!

The Intro ride is about eight miles up and down Wood Canyon. Karin adjusts seat height if needed and reviews neutral and ready body positioning before the ride. Along the trail are bridges, water, cake mix soil, sharp turns, quick inclines and, of course, other park users. As we approached these elements, Karin reviewed things like when and how to brake, when to change gears, and where my line of sight should be. I learned that a steep, rocky incline wasn’t something to “gear up” for, to muscle through as I have always done, but to anticipate with a proper gear and consistent pedaling. If I found that I had to stop in the middle of an uphill ride, Karin showed me how to recover and pedal again. We talked as we rode and all the while she communicated with and watched out for other bikers and hikers.

And while there were things I didn’t feel ready to do – ride on a narrow wooden bridge or through a creek – I came away with improved skills and confidence, eager to ride more.

The intermediate 10-mile ride goes up Wood Canyon to Cholla and Westridge and down Lynx, Rock-It, or a trail appropriate for that day’s group. The leaders focus more on the experience than the skill level of the riders, but will include pointers on the subject where the need is realized. For the most part, riders on the intermediate ride are already competent on a mountain bike. As many are either new to Southern California or new to the park, the focus is more on where we are, what trails are available and who uses them, and what one might expect to encounter in the park. The primary goal is to have a good workout, a lot of fun, and a chance to make new friends who can share a common experience.

These rides are just plain fun with a wonderful group of riders and are a great way for those, like me, who want to get back into biking or for more experienced folks who may want some fresh ideas and input. As I hone my skills, I imagine I’ll soon want to ride with the Intermediate group, but for now, I’m happy re-learning how to ride a bike.

Join us on January 20, 2019. Sign up here:

Intro to Mountain Biking

Intermediate Mountain Biking

Be Aware; Be Prepared

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s trained volunteers and staff lead dozens of free hikes, mountain bike rides, and stewardship events each month in the South Coast Wilderness. The details of each program – whether a yoga hike, habitat restoration event, or fitness hike – are listed online, providing the community lots of ways to “opt outside.”

Before each outing at the selected trailhead, introductions are made. The leaders reiterate the details of the activity so that participants may confirm they are appropriately prepared. Participants have the opportunity to take a quick restroom break or run back to their cars for any needed items, and then everyone hits the trail for a new adventure. It is a wonderful time to get to know our wilderness in unique ways and make a few new friends.

Just a “walk in the park,” right?

Not quite. A lot goes on behind the scenes. OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation’s long-term volunteers are amazing for a lot of reasons: they love the land and they know the trails; most are experienced naturalists; many are specifically trained in their field of expertise: geology, California native plants or yoga, for example.

They are also trained in CPR and First Aid. Having recently been re-certified in CPR/FA, I am reminded how important this training is to the work we do.

During the eight-hour course, led by a wonderful instructor, Louis Liwanag, volunteers learn what steps to take in an emergency. Stop; breathe; scan. This includes assessing and responding to variety of situations, from heat cramps to sprains to a heart attack. Students learn how to assess a scene and approach a distressed or injured person. They review who to call and when. Louis spends a significant amount of time on how to administer CPR and first aid and the students practice…and practice…and practice. Participants take a test and those who pass are certified.

CPR and First Aid training is as important for the volunteers to know as the trails they are on.

Ever wonder what the most common issue is that we see on the trails? Not a bike crash, ankle sprain or other physical injury; not a snake bite, bee sting or animal related injury; thankfully, not a heart attack. It is heat-related illness: dehydration, cramps and weakness.

As we head into the cooler days of fall, we might think that we’re not at risk for heat-related issues, but this is really a fallacy. Heat-related illnesses happen when we aren’t hydrated enough or we take on an activity that is too steep, too long, or too challenging for our skill level. Weather is but one factor.

The wilderness and trails are very inviting, and so it’s not a surprise if we want to go farther, higher or faster than we should sometimes. But as the volunteers are trained to do when they are first aware of a scene, we too can stop, breathe, scan. Whether on a guided hike or out on our own, let’s listen to our bodies. Are we skilled and fit enough for what we are about to do? Once on the trails, if we feel fatigued, should we go back? Should we rest? Should we let someone know?

Let nature take its course as you take care of yourself. The trail will be there next time too. Be prepared and be aware.

The canyons surrounding Laguna Beach have captured the inspiration of both artists and nature lovers throughout history. Those of us lucky enough to call this special place home appreciate the canyons’ natural beauty, environmental benefits, and diverse recreational opportunities. But most visitors are unaware of how valuable the ecosystem is that sits in their own backyard. The trees, shrubs and wildflowers that we admire are home to countless species of wildlife such as the bobcat and great horned owl. The coastal sage scrub habitat that makes up much of the canyon ecosystem is some of the last of its kind and one of thirty-five globally recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world!

Native habitat supports a diverse population of plants and wildlife, while a habitat dominated by non-native plants does not make a good home. Take a moment to imagine a hillside of non-native mustard versus a hillside full of native plants like sagebrush, buckwheat, and lemonadeberry. While wildlife can use mustard for food and shelter, most species greatly prefer the native hillside, with a variety of insect hosts, different seed types, and a varied flower blooming schedule.

Our mission at Laguna Canyon Foundation is to protect, preserve, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness. A great way to do all these things is to participate in volunteer stewardship. Stewardship in this sense means taking responsibility for the care and management of the land. This may take many forms, including removing non-native plants from sensitive native habitats, adding native plants in degraded areas to restore them to their historic condition, or educating the public about the beauty, ecology and threats to our wildlands. All these activities can greatly impact the native habitats that are found in the open space, and help the unique, threatened, and endangered species that make the South Coast Wilderness such an important place to preserve and protect.

Laguna Canyon Foundation offers multiple volunteer opportunities each month for people of all ages to participate in events that help to protect and restore the open space that we all love so much. Rather than simply observing the natural world, or seeing landscapes through the window of a car, you and your friends and family can directly impact the fragile ecosystem that sits in your backyard.

Participants will follow the life cycle of a plant, from collecting and planting seeds, to caring for the young nursery plants, to planting them at our restoration project site. Once the plants are in the ground, volunteers will have the opportunity to continue tending them during our monthly restoration events. You will learn about native plants, habitat restoration, and the importance of conserving our wildlands, while contributing in a tangible, hands-on way to making the parks a better place for wildlife.

There are no requirements or special skills needed to be a steward except the motivation to show up and participate. So, what are you waiting for? Come join the fun and learn more about stewardship with LCF! Bring your friends, bring your family and come help keep it wild! Wednesdays and Saturdays from October 2018 to June 2019. For more information and to sign up, click here.

This week, we’re excited to share a special guest blog from volunteer John Foley. Thanks, John!

Growing up in Los Angeles, it was a trek for me to get to the wilderness. Sure, we had beaches, but there was always something that drew me to the open spaces. Now, in Orange County, my family and I have the privilege of living on the edge of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park with a beautiful view of the coastal sage scrub habitat. After years in the corporate world, I have more time to spend on the trails. I volunteer to lead hikes, restore habitat, pull invasive plants, pick up trash, and work with OC Parks on wildlife monitoring. These activities have afforded me opportunities to capture some amazing photos of native flora and fauna. Photographing the wilderness has been wonderful avenue for me to show my deep respect for this nature preserve.

Creatures big and small have certainly piqued my interest, and so I took Dick Newell’s OC Trackers course to better understand how this delicate ecosystem sustains the native wildlife. While sometimes on hikes or restoration outings I may not see any wildlife, I have learned to spot evidence of their presence. Whether a coyote’s tracks, a gopher’s mound, a scrub jay’s rustling, or a mule deer’s nibble marks on mulefat, these signs remind me that I am a visitor in their home, their habitat. So I take nothing, not a flower, not a rock, not a feather, but I do take trash…oh, and I take pictures, lots of pictures.

And I leave nothing but my footprints.

Earth Day was extra special this year in Laguna Beach! Laguna Canyon Foundation and Orange County Parks celebrated the 25th anniversary of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park on Sunday, April 22nd. LCF and OC Parks volunteers greeted park visitors with information and gifts at the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park entrances.

Can you picture the 133 lined with 3,204 housing units, golf courses, a fire station, commercial shopping centers, and a school? Coastal sage scrub? Gone. Trails? Gone. Unobstructed canyon views? Gone. That’s what Laguna Coast Wilderness Park would have been if the city of Laguna Beach and its environmental community hadn’t come together and saved the land we all know and love from the planned Laguna Laurel development.

In 1989, 8,000 people participated in the “March to Save Laguna Canyon,” protesting the Irvine Company’s impending development of Laguna Canyon. This led to a 1990 historic purchase agreement between the Irvine Company, the City of Laguna Beach, the County of Orange, and local environmental organizations. That year, in order to kick off the land purchase, Laguna Beach residents voted in favor of a $20 million bond measure, taxing themselves to pay for the purchase of the land. It was then that Laguna Canyon Foundation was born – a nonprofit whose original purpose was to promote awareness, secure funding for land purchases, establish the wilderness parks, and make sure the land would be protected in perpetuity.

Fast forward 25 years: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is part of the 22,000 acres of the coastal canyon parks that surround Laguna Beach. So next time you drive down the 133, make sure to breathe in that coastal sage scrub and say a little thank you for our wildlands!

We live in such a special – and important – place. The South Coast Wilderness is a unique area that is included in the California Floristic Province, which is designated as a global biodiversity hotspot. To qualify as a global biodiversity hotspot, an area must have at least 1,500 endemic species (species found nowhere else on the planet), and have lost at least 70% of its native vegetation.

Our mission at Laguna Canyon Foundation is to protect, preserve, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness. A great way to do all of these things is to participate in stewardship activities. Stewardship in this sense means taking responsibility for the care and management of the land. This may take many forms, including removing invasive species from sensitive native habitats, adding native plants in degraded areas to restore them to their historic condition, or educating the general public about the beauty, ecology and threats to our wild lands. All of these activities can greatly impact the native habitats that are found in the open space, and help the unique, threatened, and endangered species that make the South Coast Wilderness such an important place to preserve and protect.

An undisturbed native habitat supports a diverse population of plants and wildlife, while a disturbed habitat does not make a good home.Take a moment to imagine a hillside of mustard versus a hillside full of native plants like sagebrush (Artemisia californica), buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). While wildlife can use mustard for food and shelter, most species greatly prefer the native hillside, with a variety of insect hosts, different seed types, and a varied blooming schedule.

There are no requirements or special skills needed to be a steward except the motivation to show up and participate. So, what are you waiting for? Come join the fun and learn more about stewardship with LCF! Sign up for a volunteer day on our Eventbrite page, and find out for yourself what it’s all about.

Upcoming LCF stewardship events:
 
• Sat 2/25 Nursery and Plant Care at Willow – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
• Tues 2/28 LCF Restoration Stewardship Day – Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
• Sat 3/18 Keep it Wild Volunteer Day – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

 

Interested in learning more about habitat restoration and stewardship? Sign up for our monthly Restoration Team Newsletter using the form below!

 

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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!