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Posted 2/12/2013

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By Jay Field

ENCINO, Calif.--During a nearly three-hour nature walk in the Sepulveda Dam Basin Feb. 12, Los Angeles District Commander Col. Mark Toy told representatives of local environmental groups that his operations and maintenance crews would soon resume the vegetation management work that began in December 2012.  Work would continue Feb. 19 and include chipping felled trees and limbs and spreading the mulch in the upland area.  This work is part of the first phase of a three-phase, five-year project to convert the area to a more valuable and sustainable habitat that will improve flood risk management operations and enhance public safety.

Depending on the time remaining before the start of the nesting season, estimated to begin by mid-March, a Corps biologist and a native plant expert from the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee would also identify and mark non-native trees for removal.

"I think it would be appropriate if we're just going to limit our scope to evergreen ash, ficus and eucalyptus; those would be pretty easy to identify,"  said Steve Hartman of the California Native Plant Society.  "I would love to have all those removed."

Los Angeles District Regulatory Division Chief Dave Castanon said the Corps has been communicating the restart of operations with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which had placed an Investigative Order on the project to determine impacts to water quality.

"They didn't express any objections; they seemed, actually, to agree that chipping and leaving the chips here, as opposed to taking them off site, was preferable and acceptable to them,"  said Castanon.

"Our vision of this area is evolving a little bit, too, from what we're hearing from you, as well," said Kris Ohlenkamp, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society conservation chair.  "Agreed, don't put anymore cottonwood trees in here--you don't need them--but oak trees, yeah.  They're big trees, but they're very stable trees."

The nature walk was the continuation of collaborative meetings with the Corps and Ohlenkamp, as well as with other members of the local interest groups like the Sierra Club and the Encino Neighborhood Council.  It was a chance for Toy to introduce new members of the Corps team now involved with the project.

"I wanted them to hear your perspective," said Toy.  "At the end of the day, I want you to be comfortable with what we're doing moving forward."

The walk included a visit to the city-maintained Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area, where participants could visualize the possibilities for revegetation of the area south of Burbank Boulevard.  There was some disagreement as to exactly what kind of habitat could be created there, but it subsided with the promise of continued collaboration on a way forward.

"Let's work out those details, because this does get to be fairly complicated with the different species and how long they live and what fauna they support," said Dave Weeshof, SFVAS president.  "We could propose a species, but you say, 'Wait a minute, now, from our point of view that's not so good.'  Well, let's find that compromise."

"We're going to work together to figure out the best use," said Toy.  "I want it to be valuable habitat for all of us, but I don't want it to be vegetation that's going to create a huge expense for us to maintain it."

According to Corps operations staff, crews will use a backhoe and an excavator to pull felled trees and limbs out of the "pothole pond" for chipping.  The excavator will allow the crew extended reach to minimize further impacts to disturbed areas.

Audubon Society corps environment habitat los angeles district native plants Sepulveda USACE vegetation