First Look

After ‘Heartbreaking’ Vandalism, Sausal Creek Plant Nursery Volunteers Pick Up the Pieces

February 6, 2023

When Ella Matsuda got to the Friends of Sausal Creek nursery in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park around 3:45 pm on Jan. 20, it looked as if a natural disaster had blown through. 

Tender seedlings lay strewn across the ground and crushed beneath overturned workbenches, and pipes had been yanked out of place. During the four hours Matsuda had been away, a vandal or vandals had apparently clambered over a downed tree on the back fence and scattered the nursery’s 4,000 plants in broad daylight.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Peter Van der Niellen, a regular FOSC volunteer who came the day after to help re-pot plants. “This must have been a group of people, because those benches are heavy, and it was total destruction.”

“What’s most disappointing to me is just the disrespect to all of the volunteer time that has been put in here,” says Matsuda, FOSC’s nursery manager. “The plants will come back.”

At least 600 seedlings were lost, and the organization estimates material damages as high as $8,000. It may take hundreds of hours of volunteer time to restore the nursery, Matsuda estimated. 

Friends of Sausal Creek is a restoration organization with three staff and hundreds of volunteers. The 26-year-old organization has supplied thousands of native plants to over 26 restoration sites along the Sausal Creek watershed throughout Oakland—plants such as Douglas irises, wild strawberries, honeysuckle, California poppies, various native grasses, and berry bushes. The FOSC nursery volunteers collect and grow seeds from Oakland parks, including endangered species like the pallid manzanita—which is only found in the East Bay, with 75 percent of the entire population found along Sausal Creek.

Sausal Creek begins in Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills, flows down through the city out to Fruitvale and into the estuary. It ends at San Francisco Bay. The creek is home to native rainbow trout, which rely on creek banks stabilized by the native species planted there. 

FOSC has also worked to daylight Sausal Creek through Diamond Canyon park, implementing an erosion prevention program and enhancing green spaces for flood mitigation 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 get involved in the green spaces and restoration efforts in their own backyard. In 2019, about 1,300 Oakland students participated in FOSC programming.

“They can come out for a three-hour field trip that involves working in the ground, planting plants or removing invasives, doing hikes, learning about the trout, water quality, learning about our endangered species,” says Anna Marie Schmidt, executive director of FOSC. 

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

“That’s one of my favorite things about this organization,” says Matsuda. “We just have such an incredible community that is here to pick us back up anytime.”

Want to help? Check out Friends of Sausal Creek’s volunteer page.

About the Author

Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright started as Bay Nature’s first editorial fellow in July 2022 and is a recent graduate of the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication master’s program. She loves to cover living fossils (like sturgeon!), people working toward environmental solutions, and the tiny but mighty microbes that control the world.