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Lawsuit Challenges Federal Policy to Remove Trees from CA Levees


Tuesday, June 21, 2011   

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Please, leave the trees: that's what conservation groups who've filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are saying about a policy that requires all trees and shrubs be removed from California levees. The federal policy aims to improve flood safety by removing vegetation that the Corps maintains weakens the levees.

However, Kelly Cattlett, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife, says there's clear evidence that the levee trees, which represent the last 5 percent of riparian habitat in California, are vital to endangered wildlife.

"It provides habitat for species; it stops erosion, so it actually strengthens the levees with the roots of the vegetation; and the overhang provides shade, which cools the water, which is good for aquatic species."

The policy was put in place after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Cattlett says California's needs are different, and contends a "one-size-fits-all" policy doesn't work.

"It's clear that this is a very ill-thought-out policy change. And when they did it, it seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina."

There are other critics of the federal policy. The California Department of Water Resources has said removing the levee trees will cost billions of dollars that would be better spent on projects to make levees stronger. Cattlett agrees.

"In order to comply with the policy, levee owners are going to have to divert limited funds that they have already allocated to do things like strengthen their levees and prevent under-seepage."

The Corps maintains that trees can blow down during storms and take parts of the levee with them, and that the roots may provide a path for water to seep through the levees.

The lawsuit filed on Monday alleges the federal policy is illegal because the Corps hasn't prepared an environmental impact study or consulted with federal wildlife agencies.

More information is at

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