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Audubon Society Finds Vast Area of Destruction at Sepulveda Dam Near L.A. River

Critics chastise Army Corps of Engineers for “mechanized blitzkrieg" in area for hundreds of migratory and resident birds.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decimated three decades of nature’s delicate balance at Encino’s Sepulveda Dam, leaving migrating birds without nesting grounds, shelter and foraging areas, critics claim.

Over the weekend, Kris Ohlenkamp, conservation chair of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, toured what he referred to as destruction by a “mechanized blitzkrieg assault … under the guise of a vegetation management plan [that has] indiscriminately removed nearly all of the vegetation (native and non-native) that has provided food, shelter and breeding habitat for hundreds of migratory and resident birds.”

A plan by the Corps called for selective removal of non-native plants, "trimming of native trees and removal of dead limbs and debris along Haskell Creek, the berm along Burbank Boulevard and within 50 feet of the dam structure,” Ohlenkamp said. “Instead, they removed nearly all of the vegetation, including many mature, native cottonwoods and willows in approximately 80 acres of the wildlife area, completely destroy[ing] and fill[ing] in the Pothole Pond and [creating] several new access roads.”

Ohlenkamp said he first discovered the destruction during this past weekend's annual Christmas bird count.

Neither representatives of the city nor the Army Corps of Engineers could be reached for comment on Sunday or Monday morning.

The area just north of the dam is where L.A. River paddling trips began and ended this summer as well.

The issue is expected to be heard before the Encino Neighborhood Council, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, at the Encino Community Center Auditorium, 4935 Balboa Ave. And although the agenda for that meeting has been finalized, Glenn Bailey, president of the Council, said public comment on the issue is welcome.

"The wholesale destruction of many acres of native vegetation throughout the South Wildlife Reserve is outrageous and strongly condemned,” Bailey said. “The fact that the Army Corps failed to notify any of the long-time activists and established organizations of its plans only indicates they knew it was wrong and would be opposed. The Corps needs to be held accountable and to restore the damage done."

The public can also comment at the Encino Neighborhood Council’s Park Committee on Jan. 7 and again at the full Council, on Jan. 23.

The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Park’s Sepulveda Basin Wildlife
Reserve consists of two sections (north and south of Burbank Boulevard), located at the southeast end of the Sepulveda Flood Control Basin.

The South Reserve (south of Burbank Boulevard, bounded by the Dam and the Los Angeles River) was developed as a revegetation experiment in 1979 by the Corps of Engineers and features a small man-made pond and the part of Haskell Creek that flows into the Los Angeles River, according to public records.

A long-established homeless encampment could be at the root of the Corps clearing the area, critics said.

“Yes, there is a persistent problem with homeless encampments, as well as drug dealing, lewd conduct and graffiti,” Ohlenkamp said. “We acknowledge that and have been pointing out these problems to the authorities for years. We have been told that the police are afraid to enter the area on foot, and the Corps refuses to do any maintenance on the existing roads… The problem is a woeful lack of enforcement that nobody wants to address or take responsibility for," he said. "Everybody claims they don't have the money or resources. And then they spend gobs of money on this travesty. It is shameful.”

Council President Bailey echoed Ohlenkamp's sentiments on the homeless issue.

“Yes, there have been homeless encampments over the years—and not just here—and they have been cleared out periodically without vegetative removal,” Bailey said.

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