Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers have agreed to stop clearing vegetation in the Sepulveda Basin in Encino until they meet to discuss concerns raised by local environmental groups.
Members of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society and the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife organization are claiming that the Corps recently cleared 80 acres of pristine, native plants in the basin's protected South Reserve adjacent to the Los Angeles River.
However, Dave Palmer, a Corps spokesman, said the land where the recent clearing occurred is only 48 acres and "is not part of the wildlife preserve area.”
Kris Ohlenkamp, the Audubon Society's conservation chairman, acknowledged the confusion and said late Friday that he requested a work stoppage, to which the Corps agreed.
“Of course I am happy about this positive response,” Ohlenkamp said. “It shows good faith in the future discussions. It also means that we won't have to file a class action lawsuit and obtain a restraining order against them. Good news all around."
A date and time for the meeting is expected to be set after the New Year's Day holiday, Palmer said.
The Corps is in the first phase of a five-year plan to clear the Sepulveda Dam's flood control area. Palmer said the recent clearing began around mid-December and involved pruning native trees, and cutting down a eucalyptus tree and a pine tree, which are non-native and not protected by a vegetation management plan for the area that was updated in August.
“Some trees were trimmed, others were cut down,” Palmer said. “Some were native trees and were damaged but will continue to grow.”
In addition, eight large dumpsters of trash were taken out of the area south of Burbank Boulevard that is bounded by the dam and the Los Angeles River, and which has become a popular spot for homeless people to camp.
“That is what we want, a win-win situation," Ohlenkamp said. "It is still a little hard to envision at this point … There is a lot that we want from [the Corps], and they have yet to admit that they made any mistakes."
The crux of the issue, Ohlenkamp claims, is why the Corps changed the designated protected area last year.
“It was a wildlife area in 1981, but changed under the Vegetation Management Plan in 2011," Ohlenkamp said. "We found this out after the Master Plan process, and we commented and assumed it would be designated [accordingly],” Ohlenkamp said. “We were assured it was designated as a sensitive area … a diverse habit and carefully managed.”
Ohlenkamp said the Corps’ vegetation plan would reduce the diversity of the vegetation and habitat.
“One of the significant factors requires a full environmental impact report if there’s a substantial reduction in vegetation and habitat diversity," Ohlenkamp said. "This plan does that by eliminating all of the diverse habitat they claim to have been a problem and replacing it with a mono-culture of salt grass."
Ohlenkamp is hoping the affected area can be restored with a variety of native plants and trees, not just salt grass.
“Our request," he said, "is to make it done right."