Environmentalists, Bird-Watchers Outraged After Valley Wildlife Refuge Nearly Leveled

Eventually meant to improve a Van Nuys wildlife reserve, a federal plan first nearly leveled it

Some members of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society were so sickened by what they saw that they had to leave.

Bird-watcher Kris Ohlenkamp chokes up just thinking about what happened to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in Van Nuys.

He made himself enter the property after learning it had been, to his mind, turned into a wasteland.

"I had a responsibility to go on," Ohlenkamp said.

More than 50 acres of habitat that harbored migratory birds – and bird-lovers – were practically leveled this month as part of a federal plan meant to eventually restore the area.

But the way the aggressive way the plan was carried out came as a surprise to local environmentalists and bird-lovers who frequent the area within the city of Los Angeles' Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.

The city's parks department boasts that the site is a "haven of rest for wildlife and humans alike, a welcome oasis in an urban setting."

Ohlenkamp called it "a premier birding site in Southern California."

Now an area between Burbank Boulevard and the Sepulveda Dam (map) is filled with splintery stumps of trees. A bulldozer has flattened bushes and left a muddy trail through the once-lush site. Walkways and trail markers were destroyed as well.

Some members of the local Audubon Society fear the birds will never come back.

And regular parkgoers were also dismayed.

"One day I showed up and it was completely destroyed," Albert Letizia said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the nearby Sepulveda Dam and adjacent flood basin area, said the work had to be done. Officials sited homeless encampments, trash, drug-dealing and illicit sexual activity.

Their lengthy plan to eliminate non-native plants and restore the property was published in August, but birdwatchers did not know about the plan until earlier this month. Now they say the level of damage goes far beyond what was described, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, which first reported the story.

The plan was posted for two weeks on the Corps' website and announced on Twitter, spokesman Tomas Beauchamp said. But he admits the Corps fumbled in failing to include and inform local environmental groups.

"There's actually room for improvement here, where we actually meet with them," Beauchamp said.

The two sides will be meeting with Rep. Brad Sherman's office in coming weeks to try to resolve the conflict.

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