Why is the Banning Ranch Conservancy concerned about the mowing on Banning Ranch and Sunset Ridge? The mowing that has occurred in this area will limit the growth and establishment of coastal sage scrub habitat vital to the Federally threatened California gnatcatcher and other birds. Biologists are currently seeing their numbers decrease and this is directly attributal to an increase in habitat loss. Documented instances of the mowing of encelia (bush sunflower), considered to be environmentally sensitive habitat (ESHA), has been a major concern. Gnatcatchers are known to frequent areas where encelia are also found. A photograph of encelia appears to the right. Is the mowing necessary for fire safety, as the owners of Banning Ranch and City of Newport Beach claim? The Newport Beach and Orange County Fire Codes, like the fire codes of most municipalities, recommend mowing shrubs to a distance of 100 feet away from structures to protect the structures from wildfires. Codes followed by the City of Newport Beach specifically state that clearing combustibles and creating fuel breaks for fire safety reasons in environmentally sensitive habitat areas can be done at the discretion of the City's Fire Chief.
At Sunset Ridge and Banning Ranch, the mowing is occurring much further away from any structures. In many cases, mowing is occuring 1200' and more from any structures. Mowers have routinely been sighted well beyond the normal 100' established fuel modification buffer that is the established distance used for fire safety purposes.
Is mowing legal? Such mowing in the Coastal Zone requires a Coastal Development Permit. Neither the owners of Banning Ranch nor the City of Newport Beach have Coastal Development Permits for this mowing.
What would happen if the mowing were just limited to 100 feet from structures? Limiting the mowing to 100 feet from structures would still protect the structures from wildfires, and would allow the re-establishment of coastal sage scrub and expansion of the populations of the California gnatcatcher, cactus wren, and other birds.
What can I do to assist? It is important to report all any instances of mowing. If you see any type of mowing activity please contact Kevin Nelson as soon as possible. Kevin will contact the appropriate entities including; the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG), the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the California Coastal Commission (CCC). Contact information for Kevin Nelson: