Strawberry Creek Restoration Project Fights for Native Plants

Photo: Tyler Grinberg removes invasive species from the banks of Strawberry Creek. The creek, which runs through the UC Berkeley campus, is in the midst of a major restoration project.
Allyse Bacharach/Senior Staff
Tyler Grinberg removes invasive species from the banks of Strawberry Creek. The creek, which runs through the UC Berkeley campus, is in the midst of a major restoration project.

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Flowing under bridges and through groves, Strawberry Creek might look like an untouched natural sanctuary hidden between large, man-made buildings. But the stream, running through the heart of UC Berkeley's campus, has been damaged by the beds of ivy that seem to offer themselves up as picnic spots, according to the leaders of a project to restore the creek.

Ivy plants, which carpet the banks of much of the creek, are not native to Berkeley, and their growth, along with that of many other foreign plants, is an "alarming" detriment to the ecosystem and disrupts natural processes, said David Pon, a UC Berkeley junior and a coordinator for the Strawberry Creek Restoration Project.

Now, with almost $30,000 from The Green Initiative Fund, which provides money generated from student fees for projects that make the campus more sustainable, the Strawberry Creek Restoration Project is slowly beginning to blossom. The project aims to cultivate the creek's natural biodiversity that has been threatened by a growing campus population and environmental footprint.

"The interest on the part of the student body about preservation has never been stronger," said Tim Pine, environmental protection specialist for the campus Office of Environment, Health and Safety. "It's so wonderful to see the students take this and run with it."

The stream - which originates at Strawberry Canyon, flows through campus and ends in the San Francisco Bay - has faced more than a century of pollution and neglect, which has degraded its water quality and allowed non-native plants to flourish and thereby jeopardize the health of native plants and wildlife.

"When invasive species come in and take over an area, they kind of stamp out all competition," Pon said. "They lack the co-evolutionary history and don't have the natural predators and pests and diseases that native plants have to face. Invasive plants can multiply without check and use up all the resources."

During the past 40 years, a series of efforts have been made to restore the ecological balance of the creek, but many suffered from a lack of funding, according to Pine.

"Waiting for nature to heal itself - it's going to happen, but it takes decades, if not centuries," Pine said. "We want to do it overnight, but that's not the way it goes."

Unlike previous efforts, which focused on improving the water quality of the creek after decades of pollution - sometimes even resulting from sewage - this project centers around removing non-native plants and making the creek more accessible. And Tyler Grinberg, a UC Berkeley senior and the lead coordinator for the effort, hopes to remove all invasive plants within the next year and a half, with the help of volunteers from all over the city. More than 550 people, from kindergartners to the elderly, participated in weekly restoration events last semester, pulling out invasive plants.

"All along, Strawberry Creek was used by campus but forgotten about as invasive plants came in," Grinberg said. "By restoring these areas, we're really allowing people to come back and enjoy the creek."

Grinberg also wants to repair the creek so it can function as an outdoor laboratory and research tool that can be integrated into curriculum across campus departments.

"It doesn't even have to be an environmental science class - basic ecology classes, biology classes - seeing firsthand that this is a natural living system," said Pon, who runs the nursery where the native plants are grown.

Only a small portion of the grant money has been spent, and Grinberg and his peers still have many ambitious goals to realize.

"I want Strawberry Creek to be in those trail maps that you get of California: cool spots that you can go visit, hikes you can take," Grinberg said. "I want people to come up to go see a football game but also Strawberry Creek - have it be an attraction that you come to in the Bay Area and as a kind of demonstration of what California should look like."


Soumya Karlamangla is the lead environment reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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