It’s no secret that Orange County, California, abounds with natural beauty throughout its wide area of habitats. The region’s allure has meant a great deal of development to meet the demands of those that call the region home. Sadly, the development of land can often cause severe impacts on the natural environment and disrupt the balance of ecosystems. As society has become increasingly aware of the impacts human development causes on the environment and the species found therein more effort has been made to restore native habitats. California’s awareness of the importance of biodiversity has allowed it to become a leader in conservation in the United States. As of 2016, the US Geological Survey concluded that 22% of California’s 100-million acres are under a protected status. California is also a leader in the 30x30 initiative which calls for 30% of land and 30% of oceans in the United States to be protected by 2030. In October of 2020, governor Gavin Newsom enacted executive order N-82-20 making California the first state to commit to protecting 30% of its land and water by 2030. A huge part of the reason that California has become such a leader in conservation is because of the great work local environmental non-profits have done to ensure that native habitats are protected.
Below we will highlight a few of our fellow habitat conservation nonprofits. This list is far from comprehensive but gives a taste of the work being done in our marine and estuarine habitats in Orange County. OC Habitats is proud to be partners with each of these organizations through project sharing and collaboration.
Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy
The Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy (HBWC) was founded in 1985 as a non-profit corporation. However, the effort to protect the special saltwater marsh ecosystems found in Huntington Beach began in 1984 when a group of private citizens came together to form the Friends of Huntington Beach Wetlands. Members of the community were concerned over the future of the wetland habitats in the area after witnessing the already severely degraded habitat disappear at an alarming rate as the coastal region continued to be developed. One of the first goals of the organization was to ensure that the city of Huntington Beach would permanently protect the remaining wetland habitat and prevent any possible zoning for development. By reaching out to the community and informing citizens of the important ecological role that wetland habitats play in the environment, as well as employing the 1976 California Coastal Act, the organization was successful and the area was permanently protected by the city in 1996. The 1976 California Coastal Act formed the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission, which is today’s Coastal Commission, and gives them the responsibility of developing a California Coastal Plan for the coastal zone, including conserving natural resources, preserving public access to the coast, guidance on industrial development, management of coastal hazards, and more.
HBWC has been extremely successful in their restoration efforts and continues to maintain their grounds with regular restoration projects. The conservancy also educates the public through their interpretive center which is open to the public. The center contains dioramas and educational displays which inform visitors about the coastal wetlands, their threats, and current restoration efforts. Their regular restoration projects are open to the public and OC Habitats organizes a restoration at the Huntington Beach Wetlands every month which you can sign up for through Eventbrite.
Banning Ranch Conservancy
Banning Ranch is the last remaining unprotected coastal open space in Orange County. The area has not been built on due to its active status as an oil field. Initial efforts to preserve the area began in 1999 with the formation of a task force called the Sierra Club Banning Ranch Park and Preserve (BRRP). In 2008, the Banning Ranch Conservancy was created and began working with the BRRP Task Force as well as other environmental organizations such as the Trust for Public Land to secure permanent preservation of the property. The Banning Ranch Conservancy has worked tirelessly for years to protect the flourishing ecosystem located on the coast near the mouth of the Santa Ana River between Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Huntington Beach. The Banning Ranch Conservancy was ultimately successful in stopping the development of the land after winning a California Supreme Court case in 2017 on the basis that the City of Newport Beach had violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The Banning Ranch Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land have been working to secure adequate funding to purchase the property and ensure that it can be restored and open to the public as park space. Very recently, at the end of May 2022, they obtained full funding for the acquisition of the property after receiving a $15.5 million grant from California’s Wildlife Conservation Board. The movement now has enough to fund the $97 million purchase of the property and has now indicated that the focus will soon move to creating a remediation plan. The long-term effort of the various environmental groups involved in protecting Banning Ranch has laid the foundation necessary for the continued preservation of the habitat and the species found within. The restoration will also increase access to park space for the 8.4 million people, half of whom are considered low-income, that live within an hour's drive of the property and will provide coastal access, trails, picnic space, and low-cost camping sites.
Laguna Ocean Foundation
The Laguna Ocean Foundation concentrates their efforts on protecting the coastal ecosystems of Laguna Beach. The organization conducts programs in eight intertidal sites and strives to educate the public on the complex and extremely important marine ecosystem. Their Tidewater Docent program began in 2002 and continues to inform the public about the species found throughout the tidepools of Orange County. The organization has over 100 volunteer docents that attend at least one three-hour shift per month. All volunteer docents go through a three-day training process where they learn about the intertidal habitat and species as well as Marine Protected Areas.
The Laguna Ocean Foundation is working on an Aliso Creek Estuary Restoration. This project seeks to restore the degraded estuary which will provide critical habitat for a large variety of fish and wildlife species. The restoration will support beach dune, tidal mudflat, salt marsh, tule marsh, cattails, and shallow freshwater habitats.
Bolsa Chica Conservancy
In 1990, Bolsa Chica Conservancy began its work in restoration with the removal of non-native plant species. The organization’s scope of work expanded in 2000 with the construction of dune habitats and the planting of native plants in wetland, dune, and upland habitats. Most of the conservancy’s habitat restoration work is conducted on the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a 1,400-acre protected wetland habitat located in Huntington Beach, which is home to a large range of species.
The Bolsa Chica Conservancy regularly provides public tours and volunteer opportunities at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. When attending restorations at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, volunteers can expect to participate in two main objectives: the removal of invasive plant species and trash removal. To properly maintain the Reserve’s habitats, these two goals are critical in ensuring a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Removing non-native invasive species is extremely important as without it, sensitive native plant species would be crowded out. The loss of native plants would decrease plant biodiversity and leave many animal species without the necessary food and shelter which they have adapted and evolved to rely on over time. Being that the Reserve is located at the end of the Santa Ana River Watershed, lots of debris and trash is swept onto the property and must be removed to prevent wildlife species from getting sick.
As previously mentioned, this is just a taste of some of the hard-working habitat conservation groups working in our local community. Community support allows environmental nonprofits to continue their work in protecting the environment for many generations to come. Volunteering at restoration events, becoming an active member of a nonprofit, sharing information about local nonprofits with friends and family, and donating money are all fantastic ways to support those working to preserve the local ecosystems of Orange County. These organizations listed appreciate any form of support that can help them continue to serve the community for years to come. To learn more about each of the listed organizations, click the links above or go to www.ochabitats.org to join our team or learn more about our partners.