Registered: February 2017
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Riparian Habitat Restoration Project
San Jose, California, center of industrialization and home to the most high-tech corporations, is in desperate need of a green revolution. Where I live, children learn to work a computer before they first interact with wildlife. Where I live, students strive to invent award-winning apps before they strive to protect nature. Where I live, adults construct new houses and BART stations on the very land that is home to wild cattle and plants. Where I live, we neglect the environment and all that it has done for us. And I want to change that.
I am determined to remind Silicon Valley of the importance of nature. Technology will always be a second priority to the environment. We cannot exploit nature out of a pure greed that can never be satiated. Mother Nature is an elegant creature, embodying serenity and peace, that demands respect of the human race. And we should give it to her; for, we all personally connect to nature. On my off-days, I often find myself strolling through nature to breathe in the air that she provides for me, to jump from rock to rock through a creek I know is filled with wildlife that depends on her, and to listen to the comforting noises that she whispers in my ears. I had once taken these feelings for granted as a child, lost and immersed in the shiny lights of new technology. But, now I know; Nature is always there, and she is always looking over us and comforting me.
Nearby my Silicon Valley home, bustling with noisy cars and infatuation with technology, lives a beautiful creek running through the heart of Sunol, California. As a student with a plethora of pressures and anxiety, I often visit this gift from Nature to reflect, prioritize, and learn. Over the years, it has been contaminated with the litter of society, and I refuse to accept this. Coming across the Apprentice Ecologist program only solidified my determination. Thus, my creek restoration project was created, beginning with in-depth research on the effects of contaminated creeks and finishing with a month long service event.
Contaminated creeks exist all over California and is endangering much of the land surrounding it. These unkempt creeks may cause the clean water to turn toxic, limiting California’s already low water supply. The many creeks of Marin County contain woody debris, chemicals from invasive plants, and much more, which in turn adversely affect human health.
The destruction of riparian habitats, through pollution and invasive plants, can also ruin habitats of many native species. Trash and garbage are picked up by the wind and dropped off into various waterway branches, eventually falling into nearby creeks. The garbage may include plastic wrappers and bags that can release the remaining residue from the product into the creeks, which can be highly toxic to the creek life. For example, fish migration is greatly disrupted due to the trash found in unkempt creeks. Fish migration is essential in their survival; they need to migrate in order to feed and breed. Often, fish migration can become impossible in dirty creeks because of the barriers that lay on their path. At this point, the fish would simply just perish. However, the drastic effects of creek destruction do not stop there. Native plants are another victim of this destruction. Invasive plants, a product of abandoned and dirty creeks, have a tendency to grow much more rapidly and can easily take over an area of land within less time than the native plants, eventually crowding them out. The decrease of native plants oppose a problem to the natural environment since “ native plants are key to a healthy ecosystem: they support and sustain native fish and wildlife, stabilize creek banks, and—because they are adapted to native soils—they have more efficient water uptake and can improve water infiltration for groundwater” (“Sonoma Ecology Center”).
In California’s creeks, orchardgrass, also known as the Dactylis Glomerata, is the primary invasive plant. The orchardgrass can withstand the dry, warm weather of California because of its long roots, which obtain water from various places throughout the land. Creeks can act as a water source for the orchardgrass. Californian creeks do not just provide the needed warmth for orchardgrass to thrive in, but also the promise of dry weather for many years to come - making the creeks in California an ideal place for the invasive plant to reside.
Furthermore, the orchardgrass that litters our Californian creeks greatly affect the habitat of other plants and animals. Orchardgrass will crowd out the existing native plants nearby the creek, causing serious problems regarding the balance of native plants. The non-native plant also releases nitrogen through its roots. The nitrogen will then seep into the banks of the creeks, which can eventually make its way to the creek itself. Too much nitrogen in water has the potential to wreak havoc on its surroundings, depleting the oxygen levels in the creeks and spreading poison throughout the water. This can cause internal damage to the organisms living in the creeks. In addition, the other plants that naturally grow in the creeks, such as algae, cannot make enough oxygen to replace the missing oxygen, which deteriorates the chances of survival for wildlife relying on the oxygen.
At the rate the orchardgrass is growing, many problems may arise in the near future. With invasive plants overtaking many other native species, we will soon only be left with invasive species that take away space for important, native crops to grow. For example, a common invasive plant, such as the orchardgrass, can easily dominate a field of crops, removing available land for crops that humans rely on as a food source - such as potato. Therefore, the removal of invasive plants has the potential to benefit both the creeks and the human race, overall.
So how can we stop invasive plants that appear to be “just another plant in the forest” and restore the creek to its former state (Fordney)?
Our group volunteered at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Center to clean the creeks through the removal of invasive plants and litter and the planting of native species. Using gloves and shovels, we uprooted the orchardgrass and French broom that is currently littered throughout the park. With our help, the creeks of Sunol will be returned to it’s original state, and be one step closer to a diverse creek environment. To conclude our project, we planted soaproot, a native plant to the Sunol area, to further encourage biodiversity and combat invasive species.
However, we cannot single-handedly stop the growth of invasive plants in the world. Humans often contribute to this problem by dispersing seeds from invasive plants. Without even knowing, park visitors carry these tiny seeds in their tire treads, clothing, and shoes. This helps the invasive species spread faster throughout the land and occupy more space. We encourage park visitors to always make sure that they are not carrying any seeds on their clothing, shoes, or tire treads. In addition, the government can raise awareness about the dangers of invasive species, so that others are consciously aware of their actions toward the environment. Additionally, we can always volunteer to organizations or corporations that encourages and promotes creek preservation, such as the Sunol Regional Wilderness Center. Together, we can preserve our creeks, promote sanitary water, end invasive species, and improve wildlife.