Sunday, January 13, 2013

Army Corps destruction in SF Valley preserve a preview of agency treatment of Whittier Narrows?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the land management agency ultimately in charge of most of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, including most of the 11 or 12 acres the Discovery Center Authority needs for its water museum project. The corps' clear-cutting last month of 43 acres of land rich in plant life and wildlife in the San Fernando Valley's Sepulveda Basin wildlife preserve offers a cautionary tale for those of us concerned about the fate of our own wildlife sanctuary on the San Gabriel River.

As Los Angeles Times journalist Louis Sahagun wrote on Dec. 29: "An area that just a week ago was lush habitat on the Sepulveda Basin's wild side, home to one of the most diverse bird populations in Southern California, has been reduced to dirt and broken limbs — by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers." 

Sahagun reports that the corps had reclassified the preserve as a "vegetation management area," with a new mission to replace existing plants with new vegetation in order to "improve access for Army Corps staffers, increase public safety and discourage crime in an area plagued by sex-for-drugs encampments." The agency declared that no environmental impact report was necessary,  posted a Finding of No Significant Impact to its website for 15 days of public comment, but according to the Sierra Club "informed no one of its existence."

By Dec. 28, Sahagun wrote, "nearly all of the vegetation — native and non-native — had been removed. Decomposed granite trails, signs, stone structures and other improvements bought and installed with public money had been plowed under."

Reaction was swift and utterly predictable -- except by the corps apparently. Local chapters of Audubon, Sierra Club, the Native Plant Society, local neighborhood groups, state and federal representatives all voiced their shock, disbelief and disapproval of the corps' actions. And while the attention brought to the destruction of wildlife habitat and recreational resources and the failure to consider, inform and include the public in any meaningful way won't bring back those 43 acres, it might help to prevent such destruction of other areas managed by the corps and by other agencies.

That includes the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary.