Army Corps Clears Treasured Nature Preserve to Root out Homeless People and Lewd Behavior

Monday, December 31, 2012
Sepulveda Basin (photo: Matt Tekulsky, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers giveth, and the Army Corps taketh away.

A lush 43-acre area in Southern California’s Sepulveda Basin, cultivated by the corps in the mid-1980s as a wildlife preserve in the Los Angeles Flood Plain, was decimated by the same corps seeking to rid the site of homeless people and lewd behavior. The Army Corps clearcut cottonwood and willow groves, home to mammals, reptiles and 250 species of local and migratory birds.

“I'm absolutely horrified about what they have done—and what they plan to do further,” San Fernando Valley Audubon Society member Muriel Kotin told the Los Angeles Daily News. “It looks like a hurricane went through.”

Virtually all vegetation was destroyed. Coyote bushes, mulefat and elderberry trees, along with a forest of brush and tall trees, were gone. A hiking path through the area is now a truck-ravaged, mud-filled road. Where once warblers, least Bell’s vireos, scissortail flycatchers, broadwing hawks and rose-breasted grossbeaks thrived, few birds could be observed. Trails, signs and stone structures paid for by the public were obliterated. 

The Army Corps told the Audubon Society in an email that it was all in a good cause.

“The overall intent is to comply with Corps' policy regarding the Dam structural integrity and improve the safety of the area by eliminating hiding places for prostitution and homeless camps, and reduce crime in the area by making the area more visible to LAPD patrolling the area,” it wrote. 

In 2010, when the preserve was classified a “vegetation management area,” the five-year mission was to increase public safety and facilitate activities of the Army Corps by replacing some existing trees and shrubs with native plants. But in August, the Corps shifted gears and produced a 61-page plan to re-landscape the area.

The plan was not shared with environmental groups and other potentially interested parties, and wasn’t discovered by the Audubon Society until December 6, when it futilely expressed concern to the Army Corps.

Army Corps Deputy District Commander Alexander Deraney acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that “"somehow, we did not clearly communicate,” but pledged to “make the process more transparent in the future.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Wildlife Group Outraged at Plant Clearance in Sepulveda Basin (by Dana Bartholomew, Los Angeles Daily News)

Army Corps of Engineers Clear-Cuts Lush Habitat in Valley (by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times)

Sepulveda Basin Devastation (San Fernando Valley Audubon Society)

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