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Banishing blackberries - Squamish residents pull together to tackle invasive plant species

Banishing blackberries - Squamish residents pull together to tackle invasive plant species
Executive Director - Tue Sep 18, 2012 @ 05:09PM
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Waldorf_School_Blackberry_pull_4.jpgThanks to Dawn Green and the Squamish Chief for great coverage on a community blackberry pull in Squamish.  Here is the article that appeared in the September 13th issue (link directly to Squamish Chief):

Residing only in the memories of long-term residents of Valleycliffe, a weed-choked area lining Little Stawamus Creek was once an open, grassy area suitable for picnics and for viewing grazing deer and other wildlife. Over the years, though, it was replaced with aggressive non-native Himalayan blackberry that out-competed native species and effectively blocked access to the creek.

That’s where Squamish resident Robin Sherry stepped in.

As the driving force of a community project to remove the blackberry infestation, he describes how he moved to Valleycliffe and heard about how it used to be, which was enough to spur him into action.

“Once the blackberry took over,” he said, “you couldn’t even see the creek. People used to walk down by the creek, but it grew up over everything. It was climbing up over our fences.”

Sherry got his neighbours and the Cedar Valley Waldorf School interested and organized a group weed pull a few months ago. The District of Squamish agreed to pick up the material for safe disposal and the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council (SSISC) offered to loan tools and also helped with educating the students at the school about invasives.

Kristina Swerhun, SSISC executive director, said she was thoroughly impressed by the initiative undertaken by Sherry and the residents.

“He was the driver behind it, we were just helping out,” she noted, describing it as a leading-edge initiative.

“Having a community member being that passionate, that was new — he took it and ran with it,” Swerhun said. “He used his energy to its most extent, where if we had come in, it would have probably taken us twice as long to do the job because we don’t know the area like he does.”

It was still a massive undertaking, involving four days of battling with the blackberries, a mission made easier by the many hands involved.

Roughly 30 students from the Cedar Valley, alongside their teachers and some parents, assisted for a few hours. Swerhun said it was great for them to be involved as the school borders the area where the blackberry was removed.

But not all the students were happy.

“Some of the kids were disappointed the berries were going away,” she said with a laugh, “but I think they understood at the end why it was happening so it was really neat to see the wheels turning in their heads, that this is better for everybody.”

And a few dump truck loads of blackberry vines later, the area was restored to its natural state.

Sherry described the community initiative as “super successful” and said it was great for everyone to come together.

“It looks fantastic back there now,” he noted, “and we’ve already been seeing some wildlife and the kids will go and pick salmon berries, which is a native species. They put some natural grasses down and we’ve been seeing some blue heron fishing in the creek, a family of racoons lives there, the bears wander back there once in a while and we saw a deer there a few weeks back. Everybody is super happy with it.”

He confessed he was not always optimistic that the blackberry could be successfully removed.

“When we started out, it felt like quite the challenge... I really felt like we had bitten off more than we could chew, but it worked out. If you set your mind to it, anything is possible,” he said.

Swerhun agreed.

“The fantastic results obtained goes to show how a small group of determined community members can make a huge difference in supporting our native ecosystems,” she said. Those interested in keeping invasive plants under control may contact the SSISC. More information can be found at www.ssisc.info.

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