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City Crews Suspected : Bulldozer Cuts Swath Through Nature Preserve

Times Staff Writer

Caretakers of a 13-acre nature preserve in Big Tujunga Wash are trying to find out who drove a bulldozer through the delicate parkland recently, killing rare plants and uprooting dozens of 40-foot willow trees.

“Someone just went on a rampage and bulldozed everything in its path,” said Judy Howard, member of a volunteer group that maintains the park in Sunland. “Plants were destroyed, trees were uprooted. We’ve got to find out how this happened.”

The park caretakers are pointing their fingers at city bulldozers stored in a nearby yard, but the Department of Public Works has not yet accepted responsibility for the damage.

Called the Tujunga Ponds Nature Preserve, the park is a Los Angeles County-owned nature sanctuary. The preserve has two man-made ponds, built by the state in the late 1970s to replace natural ponds that were paved over during construction of the Foothill Freeway.

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‘We Were Devastated’

Howard said members of her group, named Small Wilderness Preservation, were shocked to find when they went to work there two weeks ago that about two acres had been plowed over. The group recently received a $48,000 grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to establish trails and a picnic area in the park.

“We were devastated, and devastated is the only word to describe what happened,” said Jenny Klein, president of the Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn., representing nearby homeowners. “That bulldozer went from one end to the other, and the damage is irreparable. It’s outright vandalism.”

Marcy Margolis, chairwoman of Save the Tujunga Wash Committee, said she traced the 15-foot-wide bulldozer tracks, which cut a swerving path through the park, to the public works maintenance yard. In a letter to East Valley Councilman Howard Finn, Margolis demanded a “thorough investigation to locate the perpetrator,” and asked the city to clean up the debris left by the bulldozing.

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An aide to the councilman, Greg Jackson, is scheduled to meet Monday with public works officials to find out if the city is responsible.

Edward Longley, director of street maintenance for the department of public works, said emergency flood-control crews were working in the area with bulldozers several weeks ago to repair the bank of a flood-control channel, which was damaged by rains.

Maps indicate that a county park is in the area, Longley said, but do not identify it as a wildlife sanctuary. Immediate bulldozing was necessary to protect businesses and homes on nearby Wentworth Street from flooding, he said.

“In doing this, we may have crossed the area. I don’t know. There was no marking, no fence, nothing,” Longley said. “If we did do any damage, it was because the status of that area as a preservation was unknown to us and we were working under emergency conditions. We are going to follow up on this.”

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County parks officials said a fence surrounds the park, but that it has been torn down in several places. Nature preserve signs have been vandalized.

Patrick Sullivan, county administrator for natural area parks, said the map designation showing a county park in the area is enough reason for work crews to stay away.

Margolis said her group had been working to develop a system of trails and picnic tables through the park, where unusual plants, trees and some coastal varieties of chaparral are found around the ponds.

“We are going to have to change the direction of the trail to make that ugly area less visible,” Margolis said. “This was the most left-field thing that could have happened to us. We expect to chase out fishermen, clean up hiker’s trash. We weren’t expecting a bulldozer.”

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But there is hope in the midst of devastation, according to Sullivan.

The rare Davidson’s mallow, a tall perennial plant that belongs to the hibiscus family, thrives in what he called “disturbed environments,” barren areas ravaged by disasters such as floods--or in this case bulldozers.

“They don’t require humus layers and evade disturbed areas,” Sullivan said. “Actually, the plant had been dwindling in the park because it has been a sanctuary. I expect there will be dozens of new plants soon.”


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