From Garbage Dump to Coastal Sage Scrub Wonderland

It’s been three decades since the Coyote Canyon Landfill in Newport Beach received its last load of garbage. Today, you wouldn’t recognize the site near Newport Coast Drive as a landfill, thanks to a remarkable restoration effort by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA). 

A portion of the closed site has been regenerated as coastal sage scrub habitat. Tons and tons of municipal solid waste — trash from homes, businesses and agriculture — lie beneath a thriving sustainable native habitat supporting wildlife, thanks to a transformation that began in the mid-1990s.

The habitat is protected from public access, creating a remote environment that attracts wildlife including the federally listed coastal California gnatcatcher, a small blue-grey songbird. Gnatcatcher sightings — particularly nesting and breeding pairs of gnatcatchers — usually indicate that an ecosystem is healthy. Surveys conducted by Orange County Waste and Recycling in 2019 documented a total of 53 California gnatcatcher individuals (including 20 pairs), providing proof of a successful restoration effort. 

A New Idea

Restoring the land as habitat was part of the original plan when the Coyote Canyon Landfill closed in 1990. Back then, the idea of creating habitat for a federally listed bird species on a landfill was new and untested. TCA spearheaded the restoration to balance construction of the 73 Toll Road. 

The landfill’s location meant that it could serve as a link for birds and animals traveling between the San Joaquin Hills and Upper Newport Bay. Wildlife corridors like this help birds and animals expand their breeding areas which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of inbreeding and genetic loss. 

Signs of Success 

The first California gnatcatcher pair arrived at the Coyote Canyon Landfill ahead of schedule — just two years after the habitat was planted. By 1999, the site’s fifth year, 15 pairs of California gnatcatchers were successfully breeding in the habitat; 58 percent produced one brood successfully and 33 percent successfully produced two broods. 

These percentages were comparable to other populations in the region and the Coyote Canyon Landfill habitat was deemed acceptable for the California gnatcatcher. 

The coastal sage scrub habitat has also proved a success, according to a Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the 73 Toll Road. 

In fact, the site is so successful, it is now considered a source site for the population and breeding. With this, other areas along the coast are populated with gnatcatchers.

Today, Coyote Canyon Landfill continues to evolve as a natural, protected space within the Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) for the Central and Coastal Subregion of Orange County. It will be preserved and flourish for generations to come. 

Projects such as these demonstrate TCA’s ongoing commitment to the land. Learn more about our environmental efforts here.

To see photos of Coyote Canyon, visit The Toll Roads Flickr page. 

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