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Army Corps Of Engineers Under Fire For Plowing Wildlife Habitat

LAKE BALBOA ( — Environmental groups, along with two state senators, want to know why the public wasn't formally notified before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plowed about 43 acres of wildlife habitat at the Sepulveda Basin.

Kris Ohlenkamp, the conservation chairman of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, said what was once home to a large bird population in an area around the 225-acre Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve is now piles of broken limbs and chain sawed trees.

"Every reasonable person would be devastated to see this. It's atrocious what they've done," Ohlenkamp said.

On Dec. 10, the Army Corps leveled the reserve along the Los Angeles River as part of a 5-year "vegetation management plan" to eventually re-vegetate the area with native plantings.

Ohlenkamp said the corps should have been upfront about what that plan truly entailed.

"They should have notified all the people who worked with them to update the master plan just two years ago," he said.

Tomas Beauchamp from the Army Corps of Engineers' LA District said the public was informed, and asked, about the work.

"We used our social media sites, we also used our public media sites, and put it out for public comment," he said.

In addition to the "vegetation management plan," Beauchamp told CBS2/KCAL9's Rachel Kim that the corps had to take action to manage the flood risk at the Sepulveda Dam.

"During large rain events, we would get debris from transients... mattresses and fallen trees... that would clog the gates," he said.

Ohlenkamp, however, disagreed with Beauchamp's assessment.

"This area is not a flood problem. Never has been a flood problem. The vegetation has been undisturbed here for 35 years," said Ohlenkamp.

Beauchamp said the corps hauled 80 tons of trash and debris in response to public safety concerns from residents, police and city leaders.

"Transients, illegal drug activity, there has been a lot of crime in the area," he said.

State Sens. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Fran Pavley (D- Agoura Hills) have demanded a more detailed explanation about the corps' decision to strip the habitat.

In a statement, Pavley said, in part, "When I walked the site…I was stunned by the sight of acres and acres stripped bare of all plant life, and dead trees and broken branches piled up and littering the site. A sight more reminiscent of the aftermath of a hurricane than what the corps has labeled a 'vegetation management plan.'"

All work has stopped at the basin until the Army Corps of Engineers meets with environmental and community groups over the weekend.

Beauchamp said, "We want to make sure that we're very transparent."

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