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Environment & Science

Audubon Society squawks about clearance work in Sepulveda Basin

American White Pelican at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
American White Pelican at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by Beakspeak via Flickr Creative Commons
American White Pelican at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
Allen's Hummingbird at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge
Photo by Beakspeak via Flickr Creative Commons
American White Pelican at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
Western Bluebird at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by das_miller via Flickr Creative Commons

Birdwatchers in the San Fernando Valley remain angry after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently began clearing about 50 acres of land at the Sepulveda Basin. The Corps now says the work will be halted until the agency meets with local environmentalists.

Members of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Audubon Society have been walking the south part of the basin below Burbank Boulevard this week. They don’t like what they see. Kris Ohlenkamp says it's a travesty.

"[The Army Corps] said they were going to remove non-native invasive plants. Instead they removed everything," Ohlenkamp says. "Every plant, every shrub, other than a few trees."

The Army Corps says the work is part of a five-year plan that aims to improve public safety in two ways: by improving flood control and controlling homeless populations and public lewd acts reported in the area. 

Thomas Beauchamp, operations branch chief for the Los Angeles Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says the Corps' work is part of a vegetation management plan.

"We mulched the underbrush in that area," he says. "We did thin some trees on Haskell Creek. And we removed a palm tree, a pine tree and a eucalyptus tree."

Beauchamp maintains that the Army Corps circulated the proposal for public comment, as is required. Under normal circumstances that would be the end of the story. But Beauchamp says the district’s acting chief, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Deraney, has now told the Audubon Society the Corps would stop work – temporarily – on this first phase of the plan.

"The commander made a decision to hold off until we meet with [the] Audubon Society, to discuss the re-vegetation, the purpose of the project, and then move forward," Beauchamp says. "Because obviously we want to have a good relationship with them."

This first-phase work is 75% completed, Beauchamp says, and he admits that not a lot of work was likely to happen around the tail end of the holiday season anyway. The pause will give the Army Corps time to explain its plan. This district, he says, gets only about 7% of the money it needs to manage all of the flood control basins in L.A. That's why the long-term plan is to minimize maintenance costs.

Ohlenkamp says he’s pleased with the Army Corps’ move. But he’s not done with his wish list for the engineers. He argues that the Corps’ vegetation management plan is inadequate because it doesn’t account for more than 250 species of birds that use the Sepulveda Basin for habitat.

"Their report [says] there are several birds in the area, mostly flying overhead," Ohlenkamp says, dismissively. "And there are mammals including squirrels and mice. And dogs and coyotes run rampantly through the area. That is the entirety of their biological survey."

Ohlenkamp argues that the city and county of Los Angeles spent $100,000 improving the Sepulveda Basin when it was still a wildland reserve. One thing members of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society will ask for when they meet with the Army Corps is some compensation for what they say the improvements have destroyed.

"This is the old Corps of the '50s and '60s that destroyed the Everglades, and they’ve promised to get away from that," Ohlenkamp says. "They’ve said it’s a mandate of the Corps to be good stewards of the environment and assure a diversity of habitats."

According to Beauchamp and Deraney, the L.A. district of the Army Corps is planning a meeting with environmentalists after the New Year.