$5M project to emulate nature sans humans

Newport Beach officials say restoration project will include return of native plants in parks and cleaning up water.

April 02, 2008|By Brianna Bailey

Newport Beach is getting ready to embark on a roughly $5 million project to clean up the water and bring native plants back to Big Canyon Nature Park. Restoring the area could improve the habitat for numerous species of endangered birds.

“Some residents have said they don’t hear the birds singing as often in that area, and one of our goals is to bring the song birds back,” Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said.

The 55-acre Big Canyon Creek area between Jamboree Road and Upper Newport Bay is a hodgepodge of different habitats, including tidal wetlands and freshwater marshes.


The area also is home to several species of endangered birds that nest in Upper Newport Bay and the surrounding areas.

Species include the California least tern, which nests in mud flats near sandy beaches, and the ocean and the Belding’s Savannah sparrow, which is one of the few birds that lives year-round in saltwater marshes.

“The concept is to put in place a more natural habitat that is more reflective of what it would be like if humans weren’t around,” said Newport Beach Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff.

The restoration project, which is still in the planning stage, will include uprooting plants that aren’t native to the area, such as the Brazilian Pepper tree, an aggressive species of tree from South America that can quickly take over an area.

“These invasive plants are biological overachievers and prolific seed producers that block native plants,” Daigle said.

The area will be repopulated with plants that are native to the area such as willow trees near creeks and ponds and sage in areas with less water.

Money for the project is likely to come from a variety of sources, including the California Dept. of Fish and Game.

Some of the money will come from a $1.5 million gift to the city from the Irvine Co. in honor of Newport’s centennial in 2006.

A portion of the money from the Irvine Co. will be used to put educational signs along trails in Big Canyon Nature Park.

“We were really honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Newport Beach’s farsighted leaders on a series of project that we hope will enable resident and visitors to more fully and easily enjoy the city’s spectacular natural resources,” said Irvine Co. Spokesman John Christensen.

Restoration in the Big Canyon area will probably begin next year and take about two years to complete because work will have to stop during the nesting season so as not to disturb the many species of birds that roost in the area, Kiff said.

The project also will include cleaning up the water area. Pollutants such as heavy metals, fertilizers and insecticides drain into the area from the Spyglass Hill area of Newport Beach and Big Canyon Country Club, Kiff said.

Restoration will include restoring a freshwater pond, which attracts many birds that wouldn’t otherwise been seen in the area, such as several species of ducks, said Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends member Jack Keating. The group has worked to get funding and government support for the project for the past five years, Keating said.

BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at

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