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FOR Logo Friends of the River
 The voice of California's rivers

Save California's Trees - Stop Army Corps' War on Nature

TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama to reverse the Army Corps’ tree-elimination policy

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American River Levee 2

NEWSFLASH: On Monday, June 20, 2011 Friends of the River along with our partners (Defenders of Wildlife & The Center for Biological Diversity) sued the US Army in federal court to block implementation of the Corps of Engineer's policy requiring the clear cutting of trees and shrubs along 1600 miles of California levees.

What is the War on Nature?

The War on Nature is a nationwide tree-elimination policy mandated by the Army Corps of Engineers. It requires all local and state flood control districts to remove any woody vegetation – trees, shrubs, etc. – growing on or near their levees or risk losing access to Federal levee repair or upgrade funds. If implemented, the policy would destroy thousands of miles of wildlife-rich riparian forest in California alone, cost billions of dollars, and expose riverside communities to skyrocketing flood insurance costs and major building restrictions.

What is a levee?

River levees are walls of dirt that confine the flood flows of a river. Levees are most often man-made and consist of raised embankments on either side of a river. Levees are commonly reinforced with vegetation that prevents erosion and, ultimately, levee failure. Two of the most extensive levee systems in the nation are along the Sacramento River in California and the Mississippi River system.

Levees in California were built close together starting in the mid-1800s. This design increased the velocity of the rivers in flood, forcing them to scour out Gold Rush mining sediment that had begun to get in the way of river navigation. The consequence of this design is that vegetation on or near levees in California often provides the only wildlife habitat remaining along Central Valley rivers. If the Army Corps demands all the vegetation be cut down, that means all of the wildlife that use these trees for shelter – Swainson’s hawk, Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, and riparian brush rabbit (to name a few) – will lose their homes!

Why does the Army Corps want to cut down the trees?

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency that typically designs and builds levees and dams to manage river flood flows.

On August 29, 2005, more than 50 levees failed in and around the city of New Orleans, resulting in more than 1,400 casualties. The disaster has been called the worst US engineering disaster of all time and the Army Corps of Engineers has taken much of the blame. Perhaps in response to this tragedy, the Army Corps set its sights on an unlikely enemy: nature. 

As a result of the Katrina levee failure investigations, three major enemies to levee stability were identified: erosion, a deep layer of peat (decayed vegetable matter leftover from swamps) in levee walls, and overtopping (water levels exceeding the height of levee banks). Trees never made the list! In fact, there are plenty of studies that conclude riverside trees on levee banks actually decrease the chance for erosion of levees.

So, why does the Army Corps think cutting down trees will make levees less likely to fail? We don't know. It looks like a misplaced priority to us.

Help Fight the War

The opposition to the Army Corps’ “War on Nature” is growing and we need you to join the fight! What can you do? Send a letter to President Obama urging him to order the Corps to re-think their strategy and develop a more sensible approach for levee safety.

Photograph by Steve Evans: The Guy West Bridge is part of the American River Parkway on the Lower American River, a State and Federal Wild & Scenic River, in Sacramento, Calif. Trees, endangered by the Corps' policy, provide welcomed shade for this valuable recreational resource.


  • The President Barack Obama


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Save California's Trees

Dear President Obama [Decision Maker],


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