We headed straight to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) headquarters and sat down with some of the conservancy’s managers. After the solid 3 hours it took for us to get there (S/O LA traffic), it was nice to take a couple hours and learn about the IRC’s history, restoration goals, and current projects that we would be assisting with.
A short blip on the IRC; it’s a non-profit org based out of Orange County and “committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship” – irconservancy.org Roughly 3 million people reside around the IRC lands and it receives heavy traffic year round for its extensive trail system, volunteer opportunities and community programs.
Learn more about this beautiful place here
After a brief lunch at the native farm we meet with Rachel Lambert, Seed Farm Stewardship Coordinator. Now take a second to picture Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Put Ms. Frizzle in pleated green pants, a kaki long sleeve button down, and a giant sunhat with broccoli knife in hand. Voila, Rachel Lambert. I love Rachel. She was so knowledgeable and excited to share with us the work (and major success) they accomplish at the farm. Her enthusiasm radiated and we spent the rest of the afternoon removing second generation natives from the rows of first generation. The idea here is that the seeds harvested from the first generation natives will be more hearty and successful in the wild. Meanwhile, the second generation seeds are spoiled having grown up at the farm with regular watering and maintenance, making them less suitable for a wild environment.
After our rendezvous with Rachel we set up camp at O’Neill Regional Park, about 25 minutes from the ranch.
Here was my view 🙂
We left camp at 7 AM for our first full day of work. Our crew leader Lily was given several maps zoned with the polygons we would be tackling. The Task: Invasive Species Removal. The Culprit: Artichoke Thistle. Using shovels, we’d basically decapitate the plant and then dig up its roots to ensure total annihilation. And oh the satisfaction. All in all, my first 10 hour day as an ACE member can be summed up in the following 3 phases…
- WOWZA California is gorgeous. And it feels amazing out here. Everyone should do this. I am going to tell everyone I know to do this. Man they are missing out. Ugh, beautiful. Everything, absolutely beautiful.
- Holy hell I’m a goner. This is it. This is the end of me. So hot, so sweaty, so many hills. Why. Is no one else this tired right now? Why hasn’t this trail had ANY downhill. Goodbye world. I love you. I tried.
- I. Am. Amazing. Invincible. Phenomenal. I can do anything. I am Wonder Woman. There is no Gal Gadot. Only me, JP. Environmental Hero. This thistle has NO IDEA what’s coming for it. Bring on Day 3.
In a lower polygon previously cleared, we planted a little under 500 native plants. A very relaxing day compared to removing the thistle. Almost therapeutic, I was a fan. We learned how to sharpen our shovels back at camp.
Back to the thistle grind. But, overcast weather made for a gorgeous day in the field with a generous, never-ending breeze. There wasn’t too much thistle in the areas we were in compared to the previous day, so we were able to cover a lot of ground.
Tons of sun, tons of hiking, tons of thistle. Extremely dense and dead mustard (also invasive) made some areas really difficult to get through. Thank goodness for snake chaps and long sleeves or else we’d be all cut up from the branches we had to use our shovels to literally plough over. Definitely the hardest day of the hitch and we were all exhausted by the time we made it back to camp. No joke I was in REM sleep by 7:30 PM.
The one silver lining? Our view for lunch break.
Day 6 brought us to a new location where goats had been introduced to graze on the grasses. They essentially cleared the area so that it could be prepared for native planting. To my brief disappointment, the goats were gone and we began raking up the dead grasses (read 50/50 grass to goat turds) to create planting space. The day was chilly but relaxing, the work redundant but easy. We had great conversations, and I enjoyed getting to know my crew mates more.
Our last whole day, or as Lily puts it “asshole day”. Which I totally understand by this point. We are whooped. We have been wearing the same work clothes everyday, we have a solid 55 hours under our belts, and we HAVE NOT been showering. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. However, this ended up being my favorite day of the whole hitch. We again removed invasive species, but this time we were after tree tobacco. The polygon was along the side of a hill, giving us some trickier terrain but I thought it made everything more fun. S/O snake chaps. We paired off and hiked along the ridge sawing down the trees and then shaving down the sides of the stumps to keep them from growing back. I was working with Amanda (who also has a blog!) and she snapped some pretty cool photos from the day. Thanks Amanda. Thanks Mom.
Ya gurl dawning snake chaps and a weed wrench. A delight.
A tree species that developed interesting holes as it decomposed. Holey moley. Sorry.
Last day, half day, AND GUESS WHO WE GOT TO SEE??
What a way to end a hitch. Just like we started it. She was so happy to see us and we spent a cool morning pulling weeds from native lupin. We got back to the Dulzura house around 4:30 for de-rig (clean up) before taking some time to decompress. I have the next 4 days off (when I can write this) before my next project. However, it will be a local commute so I won’t have to pack up everything again.
A great first adventure with crew mates I’m growing more fond of, in an environment I’m falling more in love with.
In closing, here’s me with a saw planning my attack on that tobacco in the bottom right.