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Bringing Back the Sepulveda Basin

Without a baseline, no one knows how much can be gained or what has been lost.

This fall the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) will be conducting its Vegetation Survey Workshop in the Sepulveda Basin, an area that had seen some of its plant life decimated early this year. Open to members and the public (including amateur botanists), the workshop, held September 20 and 21, hopes to set the standard for surveying native plant species and support local conservation.

"In our program we produce a statewide system of how we categorize and describe vegetation," said Julie M. Evens, Vegetation Program Director at the Sacramento-based organization. The information they gather would feed into a database available from CNPS. It could also be used to inform other restoration projects nearby.

CNPS conducts these roving vegetation workshops throughout the state, hosted by different chapters, but they have yet to do a survey of the Sepulveda Basin.

"We don't know how important an area is until a survey is actually done," said Evens.

Nearly 25 percent of the native plant species in North America is thought to be at risk for extinction, and the Endangered Species Act protects only 737 native plant species. Results of the surveys and workshops, such as the one CNPS is looking to conduct, allows public access to valuable information that can help them preserve an area's natural habitat.

In the meantime, the neighboring communities affected by the Sepulveda Basin razing early this year has not stopped working towards restoration. On August 28 the Encino Neighborhood Council voted in support of a proposed restoration plan, put together by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society with assistance from the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation. The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Steering Committee also supports the plan.

Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Area Community Restoration Proposal | Courtesy of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society
Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Area Community Restoration Proposal | Courtesy of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society

The proposed restoration is essentially the same plan that appeared in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) documents from 1980 through 2010, but had never been fully developed, writes Kris Ohlenkamp, Conservation Chair of SFV Audubon in his latest update August 29.

If enacted, the proposal would add a 7-acre seasonal marsh, a 3-acre wildlife lake with an island, and more trails to the damaged area. The seasonal marsh is expected to encourage the return of birds such as the Blue-winged Teal, White-face Ibis, Virginia Rail, and Northern Harriers that used to breed in the area. The lake and island would also provide additional safe breeding grounds for birds. Overall, the additions would decrease areas that could be used for illegal activities and increase visibility for law enforcement. No cost estimates are yet available as of this writing, but the Bureau of Sanitation most likely have an estimate ready once it presents to City Council sometime September or October.

Despite progress on the community's proposal, there has been a lull of activity from the USACE due to a change in command. In July Col. Kimberly Colloton assumed command of the Los Angeles district, taking over from Col. Mark Toy. "We expected this time period to be uneventful -- and it has been. We will be meeting with Col. Colloton soon, and then probably restarting regular meetings with her staff soon thereafter," said Ohlenkamp.

According to Ohlenkamp, the USACE's fiscal year ends September 30. They don't expect any movement in negotiations until after that. However, Ohlenkamp is "cautiously optimistic" about the community's prospects for restoration based on his informal talks with the colonel's staff. Debra George, chair of the Encino Neighborhood Council's Parks committee, echoes Ohlenkamp's assessment based on a brief conversation with Colloton at a welcoming event held for her by the Friends of the Los Angeles River.

The two-day native plant survey workshop costs $25 for CNPS members, $65 for non-members, and includes a one-year CNPS membership. To participate, RSVP to Jaime Ratchford (jratchford@cnps.org) no later than September 13, 2013.

You can support the Sepulveda Basin restoration proposal by writing to Enrique C. Zaldivar, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Sanitation at 1149 S. Broadway, 9th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Reference City Council File #13-0024.

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