Rebuilding Sausal Creek: Our Commitment to the Environment

On this Earth Day, we’re focusing on the collective power that communities have to steward our environment. We’re all about empowering communities and fostering a deep respect for our planet, so it makes sense that environmental service projects have been a mainstay for our US programs. In Oakland, that has meant partnering with Friends of Sausal Creek, an organization dedicated to protecting Oakland’s vital Sausal Creek watershed.

Sausal (Spanish for “willow”) Creek rises in the hills east of Oakland and winds its way down through a series of parks and neighborhoods before emptying into the Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. Once a rich and biodiverse stream, as the City of Oakland expanded the creek had its watershed significantly altered. The native oaks and redwoods that once lined its banks were replaced with non-native ornamental trees and invasive plants. Bit by bit, the creek was diverted into culverts, with many parts of it being hidden from view entirely below asphalt and concrete.

This neglect is what caused concerned residents to form Friends of Sausal Creek in 1996. For almost 30 years, the group has worked to restore native species and return the creek to its former condition. After thousands of volunteer work hours, they’ve planted 58,213 native plants and restored 1,397 feet of the creek!

buildOn Oakland students have contributed many of those hours. For four years, buildOn students have been regularly returning to the creek to help improve their local environment, usually by limiting the spread of invasive plant species.

By volunteering with Friends of Sausal Creek, buildOn students not only improve their environment, but also learn about how the ecosystem functions.

As Oakland developed, ranchers, farmers, and then residents all took turns removing native plants and bringing in non-native invasive ones, either intentionally or unintentionally. Today, the creek’s ecosystem is degraded by invasives like Monterey pine trees, ivy, French broom, and wild mustard. These unfamiliar plants have disrupted the delicate balance of the ecosystem, threatening native flora and fauna. 

Removing invasive species is hard but rewarding work!

Removing these pesky invasive plants is a tall order, but buildOn students are up to the task! Armed with shovels, clippers, and gloves, they get into the thick mass of invasive plants to cut them back.

The service work here isn’t just about providing Friends of Sausal Creek with the many hands needed to remove these non-native plants; students gain firsthand knowledge of the delicate balance of an ecosystem and the threat that even one invasive species poses to it. The students also build connections with community members and foster a collective sense of environmental responsibility.

Their efforts also make Sausal Creek’s parks a more inviting space for the community to get outside and enjoy nature in. Cleaning up local parks is critical in neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of environmental racism, as many buildOn US communities have. 

buildOn students tackle the environmental issues facing their communities head-on.

Over time, thanks to the hard work of buildOn students and Friends of Sausal Creek, the stream has rebounded. Rainbow trout swim its length and small insects dart about in its ripples and eddies. Migrating birds now nest in the native trees growing by its banks. Patches of rare pallid manzanita plants, which are a federally-listed threatened species, are growing. All facets of the ecosystem are recovering from the harmful treatment of humans it suffered for decades. 

Our collaboration with Friends of Sausal Creek is a shining example of how service and education can be powerful forces for environmental protection. By empowering students to become active stewards of their environment, we’re building a future where all of our ecosystems can thrive.

Happy Earth Day!

This Earth Day, let’s commit to protecting our planet, one seed (and one removed weed) at a time! Help cultivate a brighter future for Oakland and all our communities by making a tax-deductible donation today.