Activists Challenge Removal of Trees from Levees

Published May 1, 2009

Environmental activists are threatening to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its policy of removing trees that weaken Seattle-area coastal levees.

The Army Corps believes preserving the structural integrity of levees and minimizing the chances of another Hurricane Katrina-like disaster should take priority over tree populations on levees. Environmental activists argue the Corps can retain the trees without significant additional risk of levee failure.

The activist group American Rivers argues removing trees from levees violates the federal Endangered Species Act. According to American Rivers, shade from such trees cools the water and provides habitat for insects the salmon eat.

Storm winds can topple and uproot trees, leaving holes that weaken the structural integrity of a levee. To protect communities from potentially devastating storm surges, the Army Corps requires that trees more than two to four inches in diameter be cut from levees. Failure to do so would make the community ineligible for federal repair and emergency funds.

American Rivers has issued a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the Corps.

Michael Garrity, Washington conservation director for American Rivers, said in a press release, “We can and must find a common-sense way to manage these levees that maximizes flood safety, uses taxpayer dollars wisely, and protects our salmon.

“We need a broader vision for our rivers that incorporates effective flood protection strategies and also protects critical fish and wildlife habitat,” Garrity continued. “In the future this will mean restoring and protecting floodplains and wetlands and setting back levees to give rivers more room to move. When it comes to flood protection and public safety, we need to work with nature, not against it.”

Penny Rodriguez ([email protected]) writes from Parrish, Florida.