Takeda California volunteers plant 1,000 trees in the Del Dios Gorge

By Karen Billing

La Jolla-based business Takeda California had over 140 volunteers plant 1,000 trees in the Del Dios Gorge on Jan. 21. The Great Del Dios Planting Day was a joint effort by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the San Dieguito River Park, replenishing an area once inhabited by non-native eucalyptus. Takeda California is a company that generates potential new medicines for treating cancer, inflammatory diseases and metabolic diseases.

“Each and every day we try our best to make an impact or make life better for the patients, to treat their disease,” said Mathias Schmidt, vice president of biological science at Takeda. “This exercise is very similar to our daily work, digging hard to make an impact that we’ll maybe see, at the earliest, 10 years…It’s so inspiring to me. In all honesty not all the trees we plant today will survive just like some of our ideas for drugs. Only the strong ones come through and those are the ones that really make an impact.”

The tree planting is the second part of the Del Dios Gorge Restoration Project.

According to David O’Connor, conservation manager with the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, the project is funded through the California Natural Resources Agency’s River Parkways program and seeks to enhance the San Dieguito River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail and restore the San Dieguito River in the gorge below Lake Hodges Dam.

Because of the difficult terrain, eucalyptus trees have been removed using helicopters and other large vehicles over the last few years.

O’Connor said that while people may like the look of them, the eucalyptus trees are not native and create an “empty forest” – the trees can’t be used for food or shelter by native animals, its oils suppress the growth of other plants and the trees are incredibly fire-prone.

“They literally explode when they catch fire,” O’Connor said.

Their removal improves fire safety through the gorge, a primary traffic and evacuation route.

Holes were drilled in the rocky terrain in advance to make it possible for 1,000 trees to be put into the earth in one morning. Many Takeda employees brought along family members and there were lots of children who woke up early to work — even on their day off of school.

“She was up and ready to come,” said Deepika Balakrishna of her daughter Niharika. “It’s a great day to get the kids out and get closer to nature.”

Younger children also had an opportunity to go on a guided hike.

The volunteers worked in teams; each planting a different type of plant to mimic the natural environment and restore what was there before. Teams planted willow, cottonwood, sycamore and coast live oak trees, as well as shrubs such as lemonade berry and California blackberry.

These riparian plants are loved by insects, mammals and birds allowing the habitat to live, thrive and be sustainable, O’Connor said.

“It’s amazing for them to have the experience of being out here and really being a part of it,” said Leana Bulay, river park interpretive ranger. “It helps give them a better appreciation for the park and the environment as a whole,”

It was Takeda’s hope that the event will inspire other companies to see value in decreasing their environmental footprint and take action.

“I’m really proud of Takeda’s strong emphasis on corporate responsibility, the effort to serve our community in many different ways,” Schmidt said.

To learn more about the San Dieguito River Park, visit www.sdrp.org. To learn more about the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, visit www.sdrvc.org.

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