Valley News -

By Bob Magee
Lake Elsinore City Councilman 

Watershed protection – Whose job is it?


Last updated 3/1/2019 at 12:08am

Courtesy photo

One of the unfortunate side effects of the recent rains has been the flushing out of tributaries and waterways with trash, debris and human waste which have been allowed to accumulate by the agency tasked with protecting the natural areas: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As news crews and public works personnel descended on Orange County and Los Angeles County beaches to report on and remove tons of trash, needles, tents, mattresses and sleeping bags from the front yards of affluent beach residents, strangely absent is the conversation about how and why these items got there and who is ultimately responsible. But the taxpayer-funded clean up must be accomplished ASAP.

Last month, the Western Riverside Council of Governments held a conference entitled: "Solving the Homeless in the Watershed." Absent from the conversation was the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. For those that enjoy the outdoors and the natural spaces we want them protected. When we register our off-road vehicles and obtain our green stickers, a portion of that money goes to enforcement to protect against illegal degradation of the wild areas. When we purchase our fishing licenses, we expect that those using the waterways must do so legally or be subject to a penalty.

Almost three years ago, with the help of Sen. Jeff Stone, we convened a meeting with five members of the Department of Fish & Wildlife. I shared with them drone footage of the water rising in Lake Elsinore and later receding with the trash, debris and human waste from the urban outdoorsmen, all leaking out into the lake. I asked for their help to protect this natural resource. Their reply was "We don't engage the homeless."

If I, as a private property owner, remove a tree from my backyard – without the benefit of a permit – that might provide habitat for an endangered bird species, I am subject to fines and penalties that could include incarceration. But if a homeless vagrant, or urban outdoorsman, comes into my yard, he can cut down the same tree, chop it up for firewood, light it on fire – even on South Coast Air Quality Management District No-Burn Days – and I have to clean up the mess.

Something is wrong with this picture, we have an enforcement agency that refuses to enforce the laws upon the segment of society that is arguable the most destructive to natural areas. If you want to help the homeless, let's start by teaching them how to use a trash can. On Saturday, Feb. 23, Lake Elsinore residents will descend on to the lake's shoreline as part of a grassroots effort to clear away the debris that has washed into the lake. Aided by city staff, we will make a difference, and perhaps we will teach the next generation to keep the natural spaces clean.

Last month while on routine patrol for illegal homeless encampments, a city code enforcement officer spotted a bald eagle on the levy. If he could talk, I'll bet he'd ask that those tasked with protecting him actually did so.


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