Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Monday, June 20, to stop plans to cut down millions of trees on California’s Central Valley levees, arguing the action would destroy important habitat for endangered wildlife.
The lawsuit was filed in a Sacramento, California, federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the River in Sacramento.
Army Corps Of Engineers Sets Levee Safety Standards
The Army Corps sets national standards for levee safety. In 2007 it unveiled a revised maintenance policy that forbids trees or shrubs on levees. Instead, only short grass is allowed on levees and within 15 feet on either side.
From The Sacramento Bee:
The policy raises significant concerns in California, where levee vegetation composes much of the remaining 5 percent of the Central Valley’s historic riparian forest. As such, it is crucial shade and habitat for migrating endangered fish, as well as nesting habitat for many endangered birds.
“This would be the most massive intentional infliction of environmental damage on our rivers that we’ve seen in modern times,” said Bob Wright, senior counsel at Friends of the River in Sacramento. “It’s mind-boggling.”
The plaintiffs allege the Army Corps policy violates the Endangered Species Act, because the agency did not consult with federal wildlife agencies; and the National Environmental Policy Act, because it didn’t prepare an environmental study. Army Corps spokesman Pete Pierce declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The policy has not yet been carried out in the Central Valley. State and local agencies struck a deal with the Army Corps to delay it until next year while they work out a compromise.
Trees Near Levees A Good Idea?
The Corps has historically supported local policies that allowed trees on levees, but changed its mind after Hurricane Katrina, and decided to impose uniform standards nationwide. Its argument is that trees can blow over in storms, potentially ripping out levee sections. It also says roots provide a path for water to seep through levees.
Or A Bad Idea?
However, a 2007 symposium hosted by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency offered evidence that tree roots may, in fact, strengthen levees by binding soils together.
The California Department of Water Resources opposes the policy and estimates that removing trees on 1,600 miles of levees could cost $7.5 billion—money better spent on strengthening levees.
The idea of chopping down precious habitat and shade for endangered species, as well as removing much of the remaining five percent of the Central Valley’s historic riparian forest, is outrageous.
Please take action today to support this lawsuit and ask the Army Corps of Engineers not to pursue their tree-removal policy.
Photo Credit: jessicafm via Creative Commons