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Sally Barrett

Sally Barrett
Cache Creek Conservancy Board Member
These oak woodlands were pretty badly abused over the years.

Sally Barrett is a neighbor and a member of the Board of Directors at the Cache Creek Conservancy. She has watched the Preserve grow and develop and has had a hand in some of the projects.






Tell us your relationship to this place.

I’m a landscape designer very interested in those places where people encounter nature. Often times, designers are thought of as people who bring nature into the backyard, but it’s kind of a mix; we bring people in, but we also restore nature for people to encounter. To me, nature is not a view or a place; it’s a process. If you build a place, nature comes in the form of the processes of plants and animals moving back in.

Why is this Preserve important?

This preserve as a whole is very important because people around here, particularly the children, don’t have much access to creek or nature, and this place gives so many children an experience of being out in nature. It’s safe; they can adventure and learn and develop more of an emotional feel for this kind of land and this kind of creek. Sometimes children think, “Well, nature. It has to be Half Dome, it has to be Yosemite, it has to be wonderfully picturesque.” But here, all the processes are in play.

What kind of activity have you been involved in on this land?

The project that we’re working on these last few months is the resource model. One of the natural resources in Cache Creek is the fabulous aggregates—in other words, gravel and rock—which meet very high engineering standards, but the process of mining is harsh-looking. We’ve built a model to understand the natural world and to teach children about the natural processes of deposition and erosion of gravel in a stream. I designed it to be sturdy enough for children to play in but also complex enough that adults might enjoy and learn from it. We can simulate a flash flood and a natural, even flow of water that will create meanders in the sandbar, and we’ve planted the kind of plants that might occur next to a stream. At the bottom, we have a mini farm under construction and many wetlands because in this streamway, restored land after mining goes back to farming or wild land. Mining companies or people averse to mining can come together, learn, and get some facts to temper emotional adversity. Part of what we’re showing is the products made from or made with aggregates. For example, people say, “Well, I hate that mining, I resent that they mine. It looks ugly, it’s harsh.” And I have to say, “Well, did you come here on a paved road? Do you live in a home with a foundation?” These things, it’s part of the reality of our world today; it’s our technology.

How do you figure out or know what to build?

There’s a certain point of view that takes nature as the grand design. To understand nature better, we rely on biologists of all species, and we try and compile the information that they bring to us with what we can do based on budget. We try to never lose what we have. We never take out a tree or prune without heavy consideration of what we’re doing or what might be nesting there. We have to stick to certain safety standards and use a legal standard of keeping things trimmed, [leaving] outer areas as is. We spot spray for invasive weeds and replant things that biologists tell us should have been here but were grubbed, crowded, or grazed out. And you know when you’ve done the right thing because the species that were historically here come back.

Can you tell us more about the invasive species and their impacts on the Preserve?

Throughout the west, particularly in California, some parts of Arizona, there are invasive species like those we have here, particularly tamarisk. Tamarisk is a beautiful big shrub, and it grows in waterways. It’s native to China, Kazakhstan, other places like that, but it has no natural enemies here, so it takes over and displaces the natives that provide homes for birds and animals. People first planted it because it was pretty and was thought to prevent erosion, but it does the opposite in our streams. It builds up in the center of the stream because our streams are pretty much dry in certain times of the year, so the water has to find a way around it. Another one is Arundo donax, called “false bamboo” or “giant cane.” It also grows in the stream way, but it doesn’t spread by seeds like tamarisk; it spreads by pieces of root. It was brought here by the early Portuguese and Spanish settlers [to provide] shelter for livestock, but it got away. It grows so thick that even little wood rats can’t get through it and has to be cut out with machinery. We end up having to spot spray after that, but we always try to keep pesticides and herbicides at a minimum.

Do you see the Preserve as a museum?

No, I don’t. In a museum, there’s a little bit more of “bugs on pins,” that kind of thing. Here, we don’t get to say, “I need to see a bobcat, and I need to see it now.” We don’t get to do that. This is a preserve; if the bobcat wants to choose to show herself, she does. And then we’re the happy recipients in that serendipitous moment. That’s the difference between a setting like this and a museum.

Do you ever get worried about people coming out to the Preserve?

There’s always the issue of venomous snakes. I have been in groups where adults are just freaking out, and they say, “I’ve never seen a rattlesnake, and I never want to see it.” And I say, “Well, I know where one lives, and it’s probably sleeping right now on this warm afternoon.” Then they pull themselves together and say, “I do want to see it.” So they go and look under a log, and there it is, sleeping, a little tiny thing. “That’s a rattlesnake?” “Yeah, it’s just another creature minding its own business.” “Well, why is it doing that?” “Well, it hunts morning and evening, often times.” “Oh.” And then education begins. Adults can go home and not project fear onto their kids, break that chain. A rattlesnake is just like any other critter; it’s living in a way that it was destined. We don’t want to have any unintended encounters, but with that in mind, there’s no need to fear.

Written by: 
Stephanie K. Yee

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