The Irvine Ranch Conservancy, with the help of Orange County Parks and the OC Transportation Authority, has completed the Bee Flat Canyon restoration project within Limestone Canyon.

Historically, the decade-long project was one of the largest landscape revitalization projects in Orange County. It required the removal of invasive weeds and included habitat restoration on more than 80 acres of land within the 293 mile sub-watershed of the Santa Ana River.

“The Bee Flat Canyon restoration project is one of Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s largest and oldest restoration projects,” said Irvine Ranch Conservancy Project Manager Robert Freese. “With planning starting in 2010, the project spanned 10 years, which included initial site reconnaissance and surveys, restoration planning, about two years of site preparation, followed by direct seeding of native species, and five to seven years of maintenance.”

The project was helped by the OCTA’s Measure M Environmental Mitigation Program, which provides wilderness preservation by allocating funds to acquire land and execute habitat restoration projects “to offset the environmental impacts of OC Go Freeway project,” according to the website.

Lesley Hill, OCTA Environmental Mitigation Program project manager, said the project took a massive organizational effect, but “OCTA was excited to work with Irvine Ranch Conservancy on this important habitat restoration project in Bee Flat Canyon,” Hill explained. “Thanks to their innovative staff and crew, we were able to restore Bee Flat Canyon’s native habitats.”

Bee Flat Canyon (Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

The goal of this project was to rid the habitat of invasive species, and re-establish the canyon’s sustaining ecosystem. Additionally, the project helped clear corridors for natural wildlife movement.

“With this restoration project, we wanted to fill in the missing pieces and create connections across the landscape,” said Freese. “Over the years, the land had been degraded due to overgrazing, wildfire frequency and invasive species. Ten years later, we were able to re-introduce native plants and wildflowers like California Sagebrush, Purple Needlegrass, California Poppies and a variety of sage and lupine species, most of which came directly from IRC’s Native Seed Farm.”

Despite closing to the public due to the ongoing global pandemic, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy was still able to provide some upgrades to its infrastructure.

IRC’s Planning and Infrastructure Crew made upgrades to the Buck Gully trail system in early July, with the help of the city of Newport Beach.

Crews utilized the closure to improve trail sustainability by removing overgrown vegetation, as well as adding surface drains.

Currently, the Buck Gully trail system is open daily from dawn to dusk for self-guided access. One-way bike traffic is permitted. All visitors must practice physical distancing and wear face coverings while enjoying trails. To learn more about Buck Gully Reserve visit LetsGoOutside.org or NewportBeachCA.gov.