A portion of the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve was cleared of trees and brush in an abrupt move by the Army Corps of Engineers that caught the area's birdwatchers and volunteer caretakers by surprise. This time of year, especially, the 225-acre wildlife area at the east end of the Sepulveda Dam Basin supports migrating fowl such as herons, egrets, white pelicans and Canada geese, in addition to smaller and more local species. The Army Corps had previously announced plans to selectively remove some non-native plants and trees, as well as debris from homeless encampments, from the 48-acre riparian area south of Burbank Boulevard. Members of the Audubon Society and other groups said they were stunned this week to discover that the clean-up went further and removed all brush and trees from the area closest to the dam.
"This week the United States Army Corps of Engineers laid waste to the South Wildlife Reserve in the Sepulveda Basin," the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society (photo, left) said on its website. "What has taken nature 30 years to develop has been destroyed in one week by a mechanized blitzkrieg assault by the Corps."
Under the guise of a “Vegetation Management Project” the Corps has indiscriminately removed nearly all of the vegetation (native and non-native) that has provided food, shelter, and breeding habitat for thousands of migratory and resident birds since this area was planted from 1979-1984. The Corps 1) intentionally avoided public input in the planning process, 2) published a “No Significant Impact” document which included serious errors, omissions, and misrepresentations of fact and intent, 3) failed to notify well-known organizations, which have supported the Wildlife Area for many years, of their intentions or findings, 4) allowed insufficient opportunity to respond to the plan, 5) ignored constructive comments from responsible organizations which were provided once the plan was discovered and, 6) acted precipitously to decimate the vegetation by going well beyond what was described in the Project plan.
The Army Corps on Saturday, reacting to the public outcry, announced that further plant removal will stop temporarily for more discussion. Those meetings will occur after the new year. A spokesman said, however, that the recent work involved pruning native trees and removing non-native species such as eucalyptus and pine trees. Other trees may have been damaged but will continue to grow, the spokesman said.
Here's video of the affected area:
The screen grab from Google Maps shows the area before anything was cleared. The river comes in from the left, or west. The dam spillway is at the bottom. Haskell Creek flows from the north wildlife area through the south wildlife area.
The clean-up issue is complicated by longstanding issues with the area being used for prostitution, illicit sexual encounters and homeless camps. No vehicles are allowed to park or even stop near the south wildlife area, and the closest parking lot, just off the 405 Freeway, has a sign warning of law enforcement against lewd conduct.
Here are some other photos from the Sepulveda Dam Basin on Saturday. Click on a pic to enlarge it.
The cleared area is closest to the dam built to protect the Valley and downstream Los Angeles after severe flooding along the Los Angeles River in 1938.
The river flows under Burbank Boulevard and through the Sepulveda Dam spillway. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the dam.
The wildlife area is just downstream from the thickly grown-in leg of the river, above, where there is a soft bottom and where kayakers take tours during the summer. For perspective, about three miles upstream from there, the river looks like this.
Photos by LA Observed except inset from the SFV Audubon Society website