Conservation Update 2019 May | Buck Gully


At our April 18 general meeting, President Brad Jenkins related news that an illegal trail had been cut down a steep, coastal sage covered slope in Buck Gully Reserve, a 254-acre nature park in the City of Newport Beach. The 700-foot-long trail, apparently cut on or about March 29-30, was discovered by a park patrol on March 31. Board Member Matt Garrambone, who as Project Manager and Ecologist for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) has oversight on IRC’s management and restoration work in Buck Gully, informed us that the evident perpetrator has been identified and made to understand just how seriously the City, county, state and federal resource agencies take the doing of such illegal work in a publicly owned nature reserve.

On April 23 the OC Register published an article on the issue: Illegal Trail Cut Through Nature Reserve. (pp. A3-4) The article outlines how and why the Buck Gully Reserve was formed, that it has two extensive legal trails that are popular with hikers and nature-watchers, and what actions and next steps may be taken to repair the damage. City officials estimate that it could take years for restoration to be complete.  The article goes on to relate that the illegal-trail problem is not unique to Buck Gully. Most other South County communities have had trouble with illegal trail-cutting in their natural open spaces. Conversations with natural land managers and OC Parks staff reveal that illegal trails are a continuous problem in all OC’s natural lands.

OC’s Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP;, and various Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs;, underpin the management and restoration of OC’s nature-reserve lands. The NCCP and HCPs are clear that the main purpose of those lands is to be and to remain as natural open space and habitat for native plants and animals. Human access is restricted to designated trails, to keep the reserve lands from being loved to death by hikers, bikers, and nature enthusiasts.

SO, the questions remain:

  1. How to get those who cut illegal trails to know that the above land-management regulations exist?
  2. And to understand that the regulations apply to ALL, including them?
  3. And that they may face significant financial and legal consequences for ignoring the regulations?
  4. And that the environmental cost of their trail-cutting may be significantly more than whatever fines and reparations they may pay, and that full restoration may take decades.

The entrances to Buck Gully, as for all OC’s reserve lands, are generally well-supplied with informational/educational signage about why they are reserved and what activities may take place therein. Knowledgeable reserve staff patrols the lands regularly. Trained docents repeat the informational and educational message as they lead regular group hikes along the designated trails. What else can be done to get the message across?

—Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair