Audubon Society Finds Vast Area of Destruction at Sepulveda Dam

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 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.

Lisa December 24, 2012 at 04:35 PM
this makes me sick to my stomach!
Sean McCarthy December 24, 2012 at 05:44 PM
I'm glad someone other than me is speaking up about the dismal condition of the river. But don't just blame the Army Corp of Engineers. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Sierra Club have authority for the LA River revitalization projects are charged with cleaning up the river. They have done nothing to remove two year old flood debris from the Balboa bridge underpass. It’s a disgrace and something needs to be done about it.
Mary Marks December 24, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Don't forget, the USACE are the same people who "engineered" the levees in New Orleans with wadded newspapers instead of solid materials. This is not the first time they have mismanaged land in the Sepulveda Basin. If you want to let them know about your displeasure, go to the top. Contact Theresa Kaplan, Chief Assets Management Division Theresa.M.Kaplan@usace.army.mil
Lori Paul December 24, 2012 at 09:07 PM
As a biologist concerned about dimishing wetlands and migration habitat along the Pacific Flyway for birds, I find the Xmas-time destruction in Supulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve to be shocking and unacceptable. The Army Corps needs to be held accountable. Where were other stewards of this land while the destruction occurred? Then again, would the police have stopped the removal of shrubs and trees (both native and non-invasive old non-native trees) by "The Army?" All of the small creatures that depended on that habitat, especially during winter dormancy, have been "evicted" or killed: crushed in burrows or buried. Or, left homeless with no food or protective cover from predators. Small frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards and myriad insects, including butterflies, in dormancy. The balance of this fragile riparian area has been decimated and what took 30 years to grow destroyed in hours! This is heartbreaking. The stumps of large trees are testimony to the loss of arboreal nesting sites used for generations, as well as associated ground roosts in the cover of shrubs. This is "lunar landscaping" not management. Who approved this without proper CEQA and local agency approval? Any further action should be prevented immediately. If there are security issues with drug deals or homeless camps, those need to be solved, but not with "scorched earth" tactics. I hope there will be consequences for this horrific abuse of one of the only remaining wild refuges in the San Fernando Valley.
Sean McCarthy December 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM
While we are talking about the Sepulveda Basin, what is the story with the baseball diamonds that have been finished for nearly one year yet have not been opened to the public? I see city workers clipping the grass and removing weeds but no one has thrown out a first pitch. Is the problem that they can't find anyone to properly run the facility or some other city problem?
Ross S. Heckmann December 24, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Thanks for this story and particularly for the photographs. It looks like an orgy of violence against nature--the triumph of barbarism over civilization, let alone wilderness. At this stage there certainly appears to be reasonable cause to investigate who did this, how it happened, the extent to which any laws were broken, and who must be held accountable for what appears to be a gratuitous, wanton destruction, even desecration, of the natural environment.
Bhaskar Krishnamachari December 25, 2012 at 06:21 AM
As someone who has enjoyed and treasured the amazing diversity of birds, plants and insects found at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve over the course of many memorable walks, I am deeply shocked to hear of this incident. Those involved in the project must be informed about the extremely negative impact of their actions on the flora and fauna. I hope that no further deforestation takes place and remedial steps can be taken (though, as pointed out in another comment, what has been destroyed in a matter of hours took 30 years to build, so this will not be easy).
Tom Ogren December 25, 2012 at 08:36 PM
The Sepulveda Basin is one of the great birding spots in LA. The Army Corps needs to keep this in mind and be careful not to go and mess up this important bird habitat. Best they leave it alone!
Ellen Zunino December 25, 2012 at 11:45 PM
As one of the three people who planned, collected the seed for and grew out most of the native plant stock, organized plantings with community groups and schools and maintained each section of plantings for their first year, It's more than sad to see how the little support the USACOE gave the project over the years has morphed into no support at all . After planning began for the area north of Burbank, our area was basically abandoned by the powers that be. We put in a lot of hours on that section and were very proud of our accomplishments, Over the years, it was nice to see the trees mature and the area become established. I saw my first Kingfisher and just about stood toe-to-toe with a Great Blue Heron at the little pond. Lack of support doomed our little "experiment".
kate rogowski December 26, 2012 at 03:41 AM
what a rampage!. This has been a good source of birds and the birds were comfortable there. We cannot repair their damage but we can stop further destruction.
Jock December 27, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Concerned December 27, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Am I Suprised "NO!". Am I disgusted with the stupidity and public deception by the City of L.A. "YES!". Coming from someone who was born and raised in this are of Lake Balboa directly affected by this land raping, this is a treasure lost to everyone. This was no accident. This was deliberate. Shame on you, our elected Representatives of the City of L.A, you can add another notch to your belt for acts of malice, deception and stupidity against your constituency.
Kimberlee December 28, 2012 at 07:06 AM
I am so upset about this I am shaking. Who do I call? Where do I go to say my piece? When are they going to plant large trees to accommodate those birds and animals and put the pond back in? How long will it take? They are throwing our Eco system off and harming the lives of all of the birds and animals. I hope the News channels make this a priority and keep blasting it on every channel. This is wrong and it needs to be rectified and NOW!!!!! I will be posting this on my Face Book page and I do have about 5,000 friends and am Admin to many groups..
Nyshawolf December 28, 2012 at 07:36 AM
This makes me sick in my stomach !!! What about nature and animals .. How can they protect themselves , How would you like someone taking down your home and making a parking lot of a business area ??? These animals don't know how to protect themselves , we the people are the only ones that can help them and perserve them to live in harmony ... UGH!!
Olga K. December 28, 2012 at 07:40 AM
This is outrageous! Who is responsible for giving these orders? How convenient, "they couldn't be reached"...
DESIREE VEGA January 03, 2013 at 05:56 PM
de-VAST-ation. and dis-ease. this news absolutely saddens my heart. this is genocide in my eyes. . .& it's sickening.


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