Vegetation removal at dike angers some

Volunteers will flag trees for protection today

This photograph taken by Jay Elder shows the dike trail after the removal of trees and vegetation in the area of the dike near the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in Washougal. The removal of trees and shrubs 15 feet from the toe of the Columbia River dike is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to maintain the integrity of the dike. Elder is seeking volunteers to flag trees with the hope they will not be removed between the dike and the river.

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This photograph taken by Jay Elder shows the dike trail before the removal of trees and vegetation in the area of the dike near the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in Washougal.

Several local residents are concerned about the recent loss of trees and vegetation near the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Gary Simmons, a Washougal boater, said he was horrified to see trees thinned out.

“They wiped out everything by the river,” he said during the Dec. 17 Port of Camas-Washougal Commission meeting.

Simmons said a shaded waterway is important for birds and fish.

He also mentioned a concern that the dropped trees could end up under boats and the marina.

Jay Elder, of Washougal, offered to assist the port in salvaging as many trees as possible in the refuge area.

“The chances are better that more trees will remain if they are flagged, as when the crew goes into the field and sees a flagged tree they will know not to cut it,” he said.

Port Executive Director David Ripp said a group from Larch Corrections Center, of Yacolt, removed some cottonwood trees that did not need to be removed. However, some trees were left that should have been removed.

Ripp said there are standards for levee certification, established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The purpose of the requirements is to make sure the port has a long lasting, structurally safe levee,” he said a day after the commission meeting.

“They all seem to understand that we are just following the requirements from the Corps of Engineers,” Ripp added, regarding the individuals concerned about the depletion of habitat. “I agreed to have some conversations with them and the Corps, to see if there is anything else we can do differently.”

Wilson Cady, speaking on behalf of the Vancouver Audubon Society, said there are bald eagle, osprey and purple martin nests in the area of the tree and vegetation removal.

“Leave the area alone,” he said. “The trees are not infringing on the dike.”

Cady, of Washougal, is the environmental education coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Refuge Stewards.

The Corps requires the removal of trees and shrubs 15 feet from the toe of the Columbia River dike, to maintain the integrity of the dike.

“One of the reasons the levees [in New Orleans] were breached during [Hurricane] Katrina was that the vegetation had been allowed to grow over them, preventing inspections from locating weak locations in the levees and reducing the effectiveness of the levees,” Steigerwald Refuge Manager Jim Clapp wrote in an email to individuals upset about the removal of trees and vegetation.

Additional removal is planned in the spring of 2014.

Elder, a volunteer at the refuge, wants the port to apply for a variance based on special environmental circumstances.

In the meantime, he is seeking volunteers to flag trees with the hope they will not be removed between the dike and the river.

Elder is asking individuals to meet Thursday, at 8:30 a.m., at milepost 1.25 east on the dike trail. Volunteers can park along Index Street at the furthest eastern parking lot and then walk to the site.

Volunteers should bring gloves, water and food for lunch. Elder said staple guns and staples will be helpful.

Persons younger than 18 must have a signed parent permission agreement, and all helpers must have a current volunteer agreement form on file or they can sign one in the field prior to starting work.

Additional flagging will occur Friday and the following week, as needed.

“Elder does not have any legislative or permitting authority to control what the Corps of Engineers requires of the port in the maintenance of the levee,” Ripp said Monday morning. “The port will work with this group to see if there is anything we can do to meet all Corps requirements, but suffice this group by finding some middle ground in the removal of the trees.

“I hope we can meet or satisfy their demands,” he added.

For more information or to RSVP for the volunteer effort, contact Elder at 989-0713 or jayelder1@gmail.com.