After ‘heartbreaking’ vandalism, Sosal Creek Arboretum volunteers pick up the pieces –

After ‘heartbreaking’ vandalism, Sosal Creek Arboretum volunteers pick up the pieces –

When Ella Matsuda arrived at Friends of Sosal Creek Nursery in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland around 3:45 p.m. on January 20, it looked as if a natural disaster had struck.

Tender seedlings were scattered on the ground, crushed under overturned workbenches, and pipes had been ripped out. During the four hours Matsuda was away, a vandal apparently climbed a fallen tree on the back fence and dispersed the nursery’s 4,000 plants in broad daylight.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Peter van der Neelen, a regular FOSC volunteer who came the next day to help replant the plants. “It must have been a group of people, because those chairs were heavy, and the devastation was complete.”

“The most frustrating thing for me is the lack of respect for all the volunteer time that was put in here,” says Matsuda, director of the FOSC Arboretum. “The plants will come back.”

At least 600 seedlings were lost, and the organization estimates material damage at up to $8,000. Matsuda estimated it could take hundreds of hours of volunteer time to restore the nursery.

Friends of Sausal Creek is a restoration organization with three employees and hundreds of volunteers. The 26-year-old organization has supplied thousands of native plants to more than 26 restoration sites along the Sausal Creek watershed throughout Oakland — plants like Douglas iris, wild strawberries, honeysuckle, California poppies, many native grasses, and berry bushes. FOSC Nursery volunteers collect and plant seeds from Oakland’s gardens, including endangered species like pallid manzanita — which is only found in the East Bay, where 75 percent of the total population is located along Sausal Creek.

Sausal Creek begins at Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland Hills, and flows through the city to Fruitvale and to the mouth of the river. It ends at San Francisco Bay. The creek is home to native rainbow trout, which depend on the creek banks stabilized by native species planted there.

FOSC also worked to illuminate Sausal Creek through Diamond Canyon Park, implementing an erosion prevention and green space enhancement program to mitigate the effects of flooding during rainstorms. In addition to restoration, FOSC’s Environmental Education Program partners with youth organizations and provides field trips to low-income schools for students to participate in green space and restoration efforts in their own backyard. In 2019, approximately 1,300 Oakland students participated in FOSC programming.

“They can go out on a three-hour field trip that includes working the land, planting or removing invasive plants, going on hikes, learning about trout, water quality, and learning about endangered species,” says Anna Marie Schmidt, executive director. From FOSC.

FOSC filed a report with Auckland Police about the vandalism, but no officers visited the site. The day after the destruction, about 40 volunteers gathered at the nursery to lift the tables again and rescue as many crushed and scattered plants as possible.

“That’s one of my favorite things about this organization,” Matsuda says. “We have a great community here to support us anytime.”

Do you want help? Check out Friends of Sausal Creek Volunteer page.

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