Stupid Policy that Endangers Species: Army Corps of Engineers Scorched Earth Levee Vegetation Removal

Last summer, we reported about the Army Corps of Engineers plans to cut down trees along levees, even though their roots provide soil stabilization.  Once again, this policy has drawn fire as failing to “consult with federal wildlife agencies” to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.  The Center for Biological Diversity intends to file a lawsuit in federal court over habitat protection.

Army Corps of Engineers to be sued of endangered species protection
Army Corps of Engineers to be sued of endangered species protection. / Photo by bfweasgg

Dan Bacher of Indy Bay writes,

One of the most stupid things I have ever seen the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do is strip trees, brush and other vegetation from the levees of the Sacramento River and other Central Valley rivers and sloughs.

Finally, an organization has found the courage to challenge the Corps’ new policy to resume the destruction of riparian corridors that my father so adamantly opposed. The Center for Biological Diversity today sent a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the new policy that would require stripping levees of vegetation that provides important habitat for imperiled fish, birds and other species in California.

The Corps has a history of failed projects (remember Hurricane Katrina?), but the removal of all vegetation along levees has the potential to harm not only communities across the country, but endangered species as well.  Jeff Miller, of the Center for Biological Diversity, explains:

There’s little proof that trees threaten levees in California.  In fact, research shows that trees can strengthen levees, and a scientific review by the Corps last year determined that some vegetation may help stabilize them.

Levee safety can be achieved without a scorched-earth policy that will destroy habitat for struggling species like salmon, steelhead trout, and willow flycatchers. The Corps has failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies about the impacts of vegetation-free zones on California’s endangered species. It’s left too little time for levee operators to get new variances.

Ironically this “stupid” policy is a result of Hurricane Katrina, after which the Corps adopted a new national maintenance policy “banning” vegetation within 15 feet of levees as if that was the cause of the catastrophic failure.

The deadline for vegetation removal is September 30, 2010.  The Corps has already agreed to protect 42 miles of levees in the Sacramento Valley; however there are over 100,000 miles of levees in the US.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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