This week the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) laid waste to the South Wildlife Reserve in the Sepulveda Basin. What has taken nature 30 years to develop has been destroyed in one week by a mechanized blitzkrieg assault by the Corps. The public, including the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee, had no advance notice of these intended actions, even though we have requested many times to be informed of all proposed projects in the Basin.
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 Corps plan of completely eliminating all vegetation (except for a few of the native trees), spraying herbicides for the next 2 to 5 years, changing a naturally evolving, low maintenance habitat dominated by diverse native vegetation into an unnaturally open mono-culture of salt grass, will require many years for the habitat to recover, and will create a large, unsightly scar on the Wildlife Area. The devastation is already so complete that it will take a decade or more before the area can rightfully be considered a “Wildlife Area”.
The “Vegetation Management Project” called for selective removal of non-native trees and shrubs, trimming of native trees, and removal of dead limbs and debris along Haskell Creek, the berm along Burbank Blvd., and within 50 feet of the Dam structure. Instead, they removed nearly all of the vegetation (including many mature native Cottonwoods and Willows) in approximately 80 acres of the Wildlife Area, completely destroyed and filled in the Pothole Pond, and created several new “access roads”. Many of the trees and native plants that were taken out were in an area previously planted as mitigation for a Tillman Plant project. The decomposed granite trails, signs, trail markers and stone structures have been destroyed or removed. Tens of thousands of dollars of public money spent on these improvements has been plowed under in one week of needless destruction.
The Corp’s stated mission of environmental stewardship with a long term objective of restoring the Basin’s native habitat is apparently hollow hyperbole. The extent of the devastation inflicted by the Corp’s recent activities must be seen to truly comprehend the damage that has been done. Urgent steps must be taken to stop the immediate clear-cut activities and prevent even greater long term impacts.
Kris Ohlenkamp Dave Weeshoff
Conservation Chair President SFVAS
San Fernando Valley Audubon Society