In an effort to further prevent wildfires in Pacific Palisades, crews from the Department of Water and Power recently bulldozed hundreds of federally endangered plants in Topanga State Park, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
Now, both state and city authorities have launched investigations into DWP’s actions that were aimed at replacing wooden power poles in the area with steel ones.
“The LADWP has halted construction and is working with biologists and other experts to conduct an investigation and assessment of the site,’” Stephanie Spicer, a spokeswoman for the city water and power agency told the LA Times.
The Times reported a separate incident where the utility company encased federally threatened red-legged frogs in cement “while making emergency repairs” at Leo Carrillo State Park after the Woolsey fire.
The bulldozing in The Highlands potentially destroyed hundreds of Braunton’s milk vetch plants, an endangered species believed to only have less than 3,000 plants left in existence.
The DWP had been alerted of the endangered plants in early July when amateur botanist David Pluenneke emailed them and was thanked for bringing it to their attention, according to the Times article.
When Pluenneke visited the site eight days later, he saw that crews had constructed a new fire road, removing several acres of vegetation.
“These wooden poles were installed between 1933-55 and are now past their useful service life,” said the DWP in a statement. “Due to their locations, these poles have been identified as potential fire hazards and will be replaced with steel poles. LADWP also plans to install raptor protectors on the new steel poles in order to protect birds from incidental contact.’”
Highlands resident Joshua Wieder frequently hikes and bikes the trails recently bulldozed by DWP.
“It’s incredibly different now than it had been a few weeks ago,” Wieder said in an interview with the Palisadian-Post. Wieder, a local dermatologist, was not aware of an endangered plant population in the area prior the LA Times article and is in strong agreement with replacing the old wooden poles for the sake of wildfire safety.
“Now it’s like a big highway instead of your backyard hiking trails,” he said.
“I would not say that they shouldn’t of done the project, but it would be interesting to see if they could’ve done it better.”
Asking similar questions, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the California Coastal Commission are now investigating to see if a crime was committed. They are also reportedly surveying the area to determine how much of the plant population was destroyed.
City News Service contributed to this report.