BREA, Calif. – A new, first-of-its-kind study is showing either the success or failure of mitigation sites around Orange County.
Development is everywhere around us. But biologist Robb Hamilton manages to still always find what is native to the areas he studies.
This tall stalky stuff is called Matilija Poppy - it’s one of the few native plants that remain within the Tonner Hills residential development in Brea.
“It’s growing up through some non-native acacia landscaping,” says Hamilton.
Maintaining the presence of native plants, like the Poppy, is one of the mitigation measures that are part of restoration projects developers agree to when they disturb the environment - whether they are building houses, parks or roads.
In a first of its kind study released in December, Hamilton and the Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks organization found that while the effects of development were permanent on a habitat, in many cases the success of restoring the habitat through mitigation measures wasn’t.
“Habitat restoration is a great tool used to offset the adverse impact of development, but it has to be done properly in order for there to be long-term results,” Hamilton says.
Along with Hamilton, Orange County environmental activist Melanie Schlotterbeck aided in the study, which took from February of last year until December.
The study examined 12 Orange County projects. Like many of the developments, what they found in the case of Tonner Hills was that the mitigation measures developers met on paper weren’t effective enough in real life to regenerate after a disturbance like the 2008 Freeway Complex Fire.
As a mitigation measure, this brown mustard seed was supposed to be largely removed. But after the fire scorched the area, it repopulated in a big way - showing not enough of it was removed in the first place. Now it’s outcompeting the native plants here.
“We came up with 15 recommendations for this study that developers, lead agencies and the state can actually implement. One of which is long-term management - better funding for it. What about a tracking system that allows not only the agencies to do a better job of tracking projects, where they are, what needs or site visits might be required,” says Schlotterbeck.
Looking forward, what is clear is that while disturbances to the environment might be unavoidable.
“The natural world can sometimes do amazing things,” says Hamilton.
They can’t go ignored.