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Habitat for PCC’s humanity

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Fong crouches among the foliage

Many people think of the Sylvania Campus as merely several buildings surrounded by parking lots, a few lawns, some trees and a pretty view. But the largest campus in the PCC District is also a sprawling, biologically diverse eco-system. Just ask biology instructor April Fong.

Fong leads the Sylvania Habitat Team, which is a group of students and staff dedicated to preserving and learning about the natural environment of the campus. It’s a year-round venture of native plant identification, weed removal, planting of indigenous species and maintaining general watershed health.

“It has evolved into a little grassroots effort to teach students how to be proactive,” Fong said. “People don’t realize how big Sylvania’s habitat is. It’s great for the students, or even staff, as they can pull weeds along with me and talk biology.”

Usually, Fong and interested students from her biology classes concentrate on restoring Sylvania Campus’ two creeks – North and South Upper Ball. “They get experience and get to be part of something that is good and positive,” Fong said.

A few years ago, students enlisted the help of AmeriCorps, which sent volunteers to help remove invasive plant species by the two creeks. The Sylvania Habitat Team even worked with the grounds crew to create filtration systems around the campus which helps eliminate pollutants from parking lot runoff.

“The students are worried about the health of the watershed,” Fong said. “We realized that with the new buildings and the parking lots, their surfaces drain into the creeks. We had oil going into Fanno Creek, which has native salmon living just two miles from the campus. We are really a vital part of the whole watershed. We’re the headwaters of it all because we’re up so high.”

With help from her students, Fong has secured grants to help fund projects and cultivate partnerships. Thanks to a grant from the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, her students worked at the Sylvania Campus natural area park, two blocks north of the campus. At the 2.5 acre park, which contains a Douglas fir forest, students got to manage the biodiversity of the area through decisions regarding what plants stay and which types to buy and plant. One student even used $1,500 of the grant to select plants appropriate for the park’s sensitive habitat.

“It’s a nice place to walk through,” Fong said. “We wanted to do something side-by-side with the neighbors around Sylvania who have been really supportive. The students now feel empowered by what they’ve done.”

Fong, a native of San Francisco, came to PCC in 1993 from American River College. She got her master’s degree from UC Davis in entomology after earning an undergraduate degree in biology and psychology from UC Berkeley. For the hiring committee that picked her to become a part of the PCC family, she was the perfect candidate. While being interviewed, Fong complimented them on the habitat at the college.

“I asked what they were doing out there and what they planned to do with the forest of firs and land,” she said. “They looked at me like, ‘Huh, we don’t do anything out there. We guess we should use it.’ I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, this college needs me.’ PCC’s natural areas are really wonderful.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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