SACRAMENTO — As the number of homeless people in Sacramento continues to rise, there's a growing impact along the American River Parkway.
Dan Kopp has been watching birds along the parkway for more than 20 years. In that time, he's spotted dozens of different species.
"It's exciting finding something new or unexpected," he said.
Nowadays, he's finding a growing number of homeless camps in the nature area.
"They take ownership of these spots and they treat it like it's their own living room," Kopp said.
He said many of the encampments are in the brush and under trees where birds once lived.
"Those birds get flushed because there's an encampment that's not supposed to be there," he said.
Some areas have been cleared of vegetation to make way for tents.
"If it's during the breeding season for birds, they can cut down a nest with eggs in it or nestlings," Kopp said.
He said brushfires are another big threat to the birds.
"The majority of the time there's a fire out here, it's from an encampment," he said.
"It can have a huge impact on wildlife," said Dianna Poggetto with the American River Parkway Foundation.
The foundation says homeless camps also affect many other species that live in the preserve.
"This ecosystem that we have out here on the parkway is being destroyed and it's something that has to be addressed," Poggetto said.
In a statement, the Sacramento County Parks Department says:
"We have created an environmental impact team and a fire fuel reduction team to help address issues specifically related to encampments, wildfire and environmental crime on the American River Parkway."
Kopp said there needs to be more enforcement to help protect the wildlife habitat.
"The Sacramento County rangers can't handle it by themselves," he said. "I think the [Sacramento County Sheriff's Office] need to have a bigger presence on the parkway."
The parks department says, in the last year, it's removed more than 300 occupied homeless camps and the total cost of illegal camping has been more than $6 million.
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