Big Plans for Copeland Creek

By Jordan DeSilva and Amy Unruh

The Day Begins

Photo by Amy Unruh

Caroline identifying and explaining tree species in the upland of Copeland Creek; photo © J. De Silva

Today day was the day that we all set out to take a stab at getting to know our new study site–Copeland Creek. Our restoration ecology class has been tasked with developing a baseline data report and the first step is to get to know what we are working with. Led by our fearless and enthusiastic leaders Caroline Christian and Wendy St. John, we spent the bright morning walking the creek and taking note of our distinct surroundings–plants, animals, and the lifeless workings of the creek.

Learning the Land

The path was quite unpredictable as we meandered through spiney himalayan blackberries that slashed our ankles, poison oak that hid among the shrubs, and low lying willow branches that we were forced to creep and crawl underneath, but the insight we gained was worth the pain.  Among the hazardous plant life arose a plethora of native and exotic species.  Today was about learning the workings of the creek and we did just that.  We identified many riparian species of interest- from box elders and buckeyes to trees of heaven and maytens, from mugwort and snow berry to milk thistle and english ivy.  We even had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the exotic cork oak- sparking a real interest in the class because of our proximity to wine country.


Photo © A. Unruh


As we looked along the creek we began to understand in what direction our baseline data report should be focused.  There was unseasonal water caused by campus runoff entering what should have been a dry creek.  The pooling from the run off harbored exotic mosquito fish that would have died if the water dried up.  Himalayan blackberries were a dominant force


Photo © J. DeSilva

along the entire creek bank and clearly outcompeted the native California blackberry.   Willow species formerly planted in restoration efforts to stabilize the creek bank and lower erosion rates have started breaking off large branches into the creek that act as a major cause of flooding- an issue because initial purpose for creating the creek was to prevent flooding.

A Great Resource

At the end of our creek walk we were startled by the approach of a stranger who turned out to be a great resource.  William Stalkard, an employee of Sonoma County, was working on on a litter survey along the creek in an effort to guide management plans concerning storm drain filters.  He talked at length about his path through his studies, previous internships, jobs, and projects.  One project he worked on involved studying the movement of sediment from Sonoma


Photo © W. St. John

Mountain through the watershed and we were able to pick his brain for techniques.  He explained the use of cross sections and tracer gravel surveys where they painted gravel bright colors in order to track their movement through space.  He provided us with his email and gave us insight into future career paths.

And We’re Off

The trip through the creek- although a bit overwhelming- was quite educational.  We have a much clearer concept of what is in the creek and have learned about past efforts that have failed which will all guide us in developing the baseline data report.  Meeting William Stalkard was very motivational in regards to our career paths and there is something to be said about actually getting down and dirty and tracking through the creek.  We are charged and ready to conquer.


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