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Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve in Tatters

Story by Josh Patterson February 2nd, 2016

[See the end of the article for recent developments]

There is a place where the 405 and 101 intersect that many commuters catch only a glimpse of. Cradled between two of the busiest freeways in the country, Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve and its attendant Sepulveda Basin Recreation Zone provide sanctuary for a multitude of creatures that would otherwise be completely displaced from the area.

It is a haven for ducks, geese, egrets, green and great blue herons, and a stopover for such migratory birds as redwing blackbirds. I’ve spotted turtles floating lazily in the slow current. In the oak savannah adjacent to the river, hawks and owls find rich feeding. Orioles, goldfinch and woodpeckers find ideal habitat. It’s a pretty slice of wildlife-friendly land.

The stretch of the Los Angeles River south of Burbank Boulevard is some of the most accessible waterfowl habitat on the river. It’s one of my favorite locations for waterfowl photography and I’ve visited many times over the years. I drove past it recently and nearly drove off the road in shock. Someone had taken a bulldozer to it. What had once been smattered with green was now a featureless, rutted monochrome wasteland.

This isn’t the first time the Army Corps of Engineers has taken heavy machinery to the area though we could call this most recent event a glancing blow compared to their December 2013 razing of more than 40 acres of wildlife habitat. Still, the damage from this latest adventure in bulldozing habitat is stark, to say the least.


The area has always been a weird transitional zone of natural habitat and the Army Corps of Engineers’ obsession with cement, but wildlife has adapted and thrived there as you can see below. It still baffles me that they’d unleash a bulldozer on this place.



I get it. El Nino’s coming. There will be rain and those damn rushes could plug up the dam. The redwing blackbirds might object but they have no lobby in government so who’s to know? With a couple hundred yards of fresh green, vibrant, healthy growth within easy reach and tons of trash-laden deadfall and accumulated garbage in deeper water between Lake Balboa and the Sepulveda Dam, who wouldn’t pull out the lawn mower—erm, sorry, the D9 bulldozer? It’s a lot easier to look like you’re doing something at the most accessible places.

But if you think that’s bad, guess again. Despite how destructive the bulldozing has been, the influx of homeless encampments in the area is even more troubling. There is a sizable encampment on the south side of Burbank Boulevard, a stone’s throw from the edge of the water. Hundreds of yards of the area are carpeted with trash and refuse. A man was using concrete abutments to break up branches I can only presume was for firewood. There are carts everywhere. Within the reserve itself, many of the larger trees are being used for makeshift shelters.

But the damage extends much further up. Even a brief walk northwest up the river east of the Balboa Golf Course reveals smaller camps in areas clearly marked as off limits to the public. Trash litters dozens of square yards in these instances.

The litter and camps extends west along Burbank Boulevard to the Hjelte Sports Center and beyond. It’s truly a massive area and it seems little has been done to clean the area up. Other than bulldozing waterbirds.

[Councilmember Martinez’ office contacted me this morning (2/3/16). In a weird confluence of events, the city had cleared and cleaned up the large encampment last night. In talking with Ovanes Chobanian, I’ve learned that the area is a wondrous mess of land owned by the federal government but leased to the city, land owned by the Van Nuys airport and land owned by the city. Each slice has different hoops to jump through and each has some percentage of homeless folk squatting on it.

I wonder if there isn’t some means of setting up an oversight committee to help organize clean up efforts in the future. Still, it is encouraging that something was done.]

Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve