Chinook salmon, © USFWS

Levee Clear-cut Battle in CA Heats Up

The California Department of Fish and Game joined the fight to protect trees along levees in California last week, filing a lawsuit to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from carrying out its misguided clear-cut policy.

Wildlife officials say that the Army Corps’ one-size-fits-all order doesn’t account for regional differences in how levees were designed and built, and backed up the lawsuit with scientific studies showing how native plant life can actually minimize flood damage.

Trees and bushes along levees represent the last remaining five percent of streamside forests left in the Golden State, and it’s vital habitat for endangered species like the Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead trout, valley elderberry longhorn beetle and Swainson’s hawk, to name a few.

The Army Corps is aiming to strip some 1,600 miles of levees in California of trees and bushes over the next few years, which will cost taxpayers upward of an estimated $7.5 billion.

Our number one concern should be public safety. Unfortunately, the Corps’ current one-size-fits-all national vegetation policy will have a negative impact on public safety, on the environment, and on the cost of our levee projects. — U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui

What’s worse is that those vital funds will likely have to be diverted from more pressing projects to fix significant levee problems that present a real threat to public safety.

Meanwhile, Congress has also entered the fray. U.S. Representative Doris Matsui of California along with 30 California members introduced the Levee Vegetation Review Act, requiring the Corps to take into account regional levee characteristics and to consult with state and local experts before deciding whether a levee in California should be clear cut.

Rep. Matsui said said: “Our number one concern should be public safety. Unfortunately, the Corps’ current one-size-fits-all national vegetation policy will have a negative impact on public safety, on the environment, and on the cost of our levee projects.”

The DFG’s lawsuit joins two other lawsuits already challenging the Corps’ clear-cut order. Last year, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the River became the first to challenge the Corps’ implementation of its policy in California. A similar lawsuit was filed in early 2012 challenging the Corps’ policy in Idaho.

 

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