KEA obtained a press release announcing that California’s Department of Fish and Game will be joining a lawsuit brought by environmental groups fighting the Corps of Engineers’ policy requiring vegetation removal from levees. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps failed to perform a proper NEPA analysis on the levee vegetation policy and that the policy violates the Endangered Species Act.
Coeur d’Alene’s problem is horrible, but California’s may be worse — requiring miles and miles of tree removal and habitat destruction at a $7.5 billion price tag. Having a state agency involved in the litigation puts significant additional pressure on the Corps. KEA is currently reviewing the filings in the lawsuit for possible application to Coeur d’Alene’s dike road trees.
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) today commenced the process to join federal litigation that challenges the removal of vegetation on levees.
The case, Friends of the River, et. al. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, et. al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. It essentially challenges the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) adoption of a national policy that requires removing virtually all trees and shrubs on federal levees.
DFG, along with many other local, state and federal agencies, has been in discussion with the Corps about this policy for several years, said DFG Director Charlton H. Bonham. Its unfortunate that the discussions havent led to a more agreeable outcome, but if adhered to, the policy will do incredible damage to Californias remaining riparian and adjacent riverine ecosystem, especially in the Central Valley.
Roundtable discussions on the policy have included the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), Central Valley Flood Protection Board, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. DWR and DFG have repeatedly expressed concerns about the policy in letters to the Corps. The policy has also received pushback from farmers and other water users.
The Central Valley is home to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Flood Management System. This flood protection system has approximately 1,600 miles of federal project levees along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and tributaries. This policy would require removing most of the remaining five percent of riparian forest there.
Riparian habitat is essential for several endangered species including Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, riparian brush rabbit, Western yellow-billed cuckoo and Swainson’s hawk. Moreover, the riparian habitat provides scenic beauty and recreational enjoyment for people up and down the river.
The policy adopted by the Corps fails to comply with either the National Environmental Policy Act or the federal Endangered Species Act.
Historically, the Corps has allowed and even encouraged the planting of trees and other vegetation on California levees. They have even collaborated with state and federal agencies in developing levee design approaches intended to benefit federal- and state-listed threatened and endangered species. The new policy directly conflicts with their past actions.
DFG and DWR estimate that complying with the Corps’ policy could cost up to $7.5 billion and divert funds away from more significant levee deficiencies like seepage and erosion.
DFG seeks to join current plaintiffs in the case including Friends of the River, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.