Lawmakers fight to save trees near levees


"The Corps of Engineers is stuck some 50 years ago," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said. "They need to think about what's really essential for California."

Garamendi attended a press event Monday along the shores of Wildcat Creek in North Richmond. Wildcat is among 100 miles of Bay Area creeks and rivers that would be impacted by the Army Corp's policy -- at least 1,000 trees would be removed.

Critics say the clear-cutting would destroy the riparian forest and threaten fish and endangered species.

"If this policy is implemented, we're going to see this habitat disappear," Chuck Armor with the California Department of Fish and Game said.

A Bay Area spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told ABC7 the policy dates back to 2000, but there has been stepped up enforcement since the devastating effects of broken levees after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"It's received more focus since 2009, after Katrina," J.D. Hardesty with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco District Office said.

Hardesty says the Corps is in the midst of two-year study to determine the impacts of vegetation on levees and national standards for vegetation removal will be implemented in the meantime.

Local agencies and landowners can apply for variances that would exempt them from the clear-cutting requirements.

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