Working to restore a historic campus creek
Students and community members come together to restore the ecology of a campus sanctuary.
For students, this is a place to go sit, be quiet, and enjoy a natural habitat
By Shoshee Jau
Originally published in The Daily Bruin
You cannot change the past, but you can attempt to reverse it.
To revive a valuable campus asset, Bruin faculty are restoring Stone Canyon Creek, a once-dominant creek on the west side of campus, to its original state in 1919 when the university was first built.
Aided by a $30,000 grant by the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, UCLA Facilities Management, and the UCLA Institute of the Environment have united in a joint effort to restore the ecological components of Stone Canyon Creek, which has lost most of its native species to exotic and invasive vegetation, said Mark Abramson, director of Watershed Programs at the Santa Monica Baykeeper.
Though its waters once flowed all over the west side of campus, Stone Canyon Creek was paved over and channeled underground in the 1930s to make space for more buildings on campus. Now, the only segment of the creek runs behind the Anderson School of Management and is left unnoticed by most of the UCLA population, said Cully Nordby, sustainability committee chair and academic director of the Institute of the Environment.
Led by the Santa Monica Baykeeper and launched in 2006, the Stone Canyon Creek restoration project brings volunteers from all over Los Angeles to remove invasive species in the area, such as weeds and ivy, and replace them with native vegetation, such as willow trees and blackberry bushes, Abramson said.
“We go there a few times a month, weeding, reviving some of the plants that were having a hard time surviving,” Abramson said. “We’ve already put 500 different plants there, and we’re going to put 500 more in the next month. We’re also adding nutrients and compost in the soil so plants can grow better.”
Increased publicity has brought a broad range of volunteers of all different ages, Abramson said.
“We have been averaging 35 to 40 people each event – not only people at UCLA, but fraternities, parents, and students from other schools, like (Santa Monica College) and El Segundo High School,” he said.
The project was conceived when students discovered a change in the distribution of the bird population in the creek, Abramson said.
“A group of grad students interested in birds found a bird survey in the 1920s,” he said. “They repeated the bird survey and found that 60 percent of the birds that were once here are no longer here, and they wondered if they brought back the native plants, if the birds would come back.”
The project hopes to increase species diversity in the area and recreate a healthy and high-functioning environment, Nordby said.
“The animals at the creek right now, like pigeons and crows, can survive in human habitats, but for native species, we need to recreate the environment to bring them back,” she said. “Then more animals will start making their natural habitats in the area.”
Restoration of the creek will also bring benefits to students and faculty, as well as to the environment, Nordby said.
“For students, this is a place to go sit, be quiet, and enjoy a natural habitat,” she said. “It really is just an amazing spot. Also, it can be used as a teaching tool once it is restored – students can conduct bird surveys and plant surveys and use it as an outdoor laboratory.”
Through the project, the university sets an example for the Los Angeles community, said civil and environmental engineering professor Keith Stolzenbach.
“It’s an example of the kind of restoration that should be done more widespread,” Stolzenbach said. “It may not have a big impact because it’s a small area, but as a whole, it is a good educational tool and a good example of the kind of restoration that you can do in these urban areas.”
Though most of the creek restoration will be finished by the end of the year, the project will continue to extend its boundaries, Abramson said.
“We’re going to start working upstream and work on that for a couple more years until the whole stream is fixed,” he added.
Published: Tuesday, November 24, 2009