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U.S. Army Corps Razed The Sepulveda Basin To 'Restore' It

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a funny way of showing that it cares about restoring the area around the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve.

It completely leveled as many as 80 acres at the lush reserve along the Los Angeles River. It caught the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, environments and others who enjoy visiting the park (like us!) completely off-guard.

The Army Corps gave the public little clue about its plans for the region, which makes the devastation that much worse for environmentalist. The Army Corps said an environmental impact report wouldn't be necessary, because its effort would not significantly disturb wildlife and habitat, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Audubon Society said on its Facebook page the corps' “vegetation management project" promised to carefully remove non-native trees and shrubs from the area and also remove dead limbs and debris along Haskell Creek. Instead whole swaths of the wildlife area were completely bulldozed, including lots of native foliage like mature Cottonwoods and Willows. A pond was completely filled in. A smooth hiking path through the area is a muddy road scarred by tire tracks. The group called it "a mechanized blitzkrieg assault."

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Army Corps Deputy District Cmdr. Alexander Deraney told the Times that "somehow, we did not clearly communicate" its plans to environmentalists and community groups. He promised the corps would "make the process more transparent in the future."

A 61-page document that local environmental groups never saw outlined plans to mow down plants in the region, spray herbicides for two years to keep out invasive species and then seed native plants in the fourth year, according to The Daily News.

The Audubon Society complains this will change a "naturally evolving, low maintenance habitat dominated by diverse native vegetation into an unnaturally open mono-culture of salt grass, will require many years for the habitat to recover, and will create a large, unsightly scar on the Wildlife Area."

The other reason given for razing the area is that authorities say it has been host to drug dealing, homeless encampments and gay cruising.

Deborah Lamb, environmental coordinator for the Corps' Los Angeles District office, wrote in an e-mail to the Audubon Society (obtained by The Daily News): "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 lewd activity and homeless camps, and reduce crime in the area by making the area more visible to LAPD patrolling the area."

The Los Angeles River was transformed into a concrete flood-control channels in the 1930s after several floods. The Sepulveda Basin was one of the few places to enjoy the river without concrete encasing. In the 1980s, environmental groups pressured the county and corps officials to transform the flood plain into a recreational area with parks, trees and bike paths, according to the Times. Much of the area destroyed today was planted in the early 1980s, and it has provided food and shelter to thousands of migratory birds.

LA Observed notes that at this time of the year the 225-acre wildlife area on the east side of the Sepulveda Dam Basin hosts herons, egrets, white pelicans and Canada geese.

A Park a Day: Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, Van Nuys/Encino