Environment : Notes about your surroundings.

RETURN OF THE NATIVES: In Orange County, with its brief but intense history of human use, even the undeveloped areas sometimes are less natural than they appear. Non-native plants and wildlife imported by man often invade open spaces and make themselves right at home, displacing native species and causing havoc up and down the food chain.

At some of the county's parks and reserves, attempts to reverse the trend are planned or already under way. Irvine Park is getting ready to enter the second year of a re-vegetation program aimed at bringing back some of the native chaparral and riparian plants that have suffered from non-native encroachment. The county, with volunteer assistance from members of the local Sea & Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society, last year replanted about two acres and fenced the area to allow the plants a chance to grow without being trampled. "The areas we started with last year are doing very well," said supervising park ranger Mark Carlson. The county has been authorized to spend an additional $1,100 for plants and fencing for two to three more acres that will be planted in January. The program will continue for at least several more years.

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