Dis­cov­ery of gnat­catcher nest slows Whit­taker-Ber­mite cleanup

Pro­ject man­ager says in­ci­dent will get U.S. Fish & Wildlife in­volved

The Signal - - Front page - By Jim Holt Sig­nal Se­nior Staff Writer

As 18 years of cleanup on the nearly 1,000 acres of the for­mer Whit­taker-Ber­mite site comes to a close, cleanup of­fi­cials have re­ported a snag as they ea­gerly ap­proach the yearend tar­get cleanup date — a nest of the threat­ened Cal­i­for­nia gnat­catcher.

Has­san Amini, pro­ject man­ager with the cleanup firm Amec Foster Wheeler, told stake­hold­ers at­tend­ing a multi-ju­ris­dic­tional meet­ing at Santa Clarita City Hall Wed­nes­day that a bi­ol­o­gist mon­i­tor­ing the cleanup re­cently spot­ted

ev­i­dence of the threat­ened bird, prompt­ing the shut­down of bull­doz­ers and trucks busy on the site.

Al­though the bird it­self is con­sid­ered “threat­ened” and is not on the en­dan­gered list, its habi­tat — coastal sage scrub — is clas­si­fied as crit­i­cal habi­tat un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act.

“Be­cause it is a pro­tected species,” Amini told stake­hold­ers ea­ger to hear how the cleanup is still on tar­get, “not only does Cal­i­for­nia Fish and Wildlife get in­volved but it also gets el­e­vated to the fed­eral level and the United States Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice gets in­volved.

“So, they need to re­view the re­ports that we pro­vided and they need to con­sult with the Army Corps of Engi­neers. And, these fed­eral agen­cies need to talk and, even­tu­ally, is­sue their opin­ion and any pro­tec­tive mea­sures that we need to take along with our con­tin­ued ex­ca­va­tion of the site,” Amini said.

Cleanup of­fi­cials have also briefed the city on the dis­cov­ery and asked “team mem­bers from the city side to see if they can help us get this hur­dle ba­si­cally re­solved as quickly as pos­si­ble,” he said.

“We don’t want to cut any cor­ners but rather we want to bring at­ten­tion to this mat­ter so that we can move for­ward,” Amini said.

The Cal­i­for­nia gnat­catcher, ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists man­ning the web­site Paloverdes.com, is a song­bird about 4 inches long that sur­vives in coastal sage scrub habi­tats in Cal­i­for­nia.

They are highly ter­ri­to­rial and mate for life. Once paired, gnat­catch­ers do not nor­mally mi­grate be­yond a 1- to 2-acre ter­ri­tory all year.

As de­scribed on the web­site: “The great­est threat to the sur­vival of this bird is dur­ing their first year. The young of­ten fall vic­tim to nest preda­tors such as ro­dents, snakes, scrub-jays, road run­ners, feral or do­mes­tic cats. They also can have their nests de­stroyed by bull­doz­ing ac­tiv­ity.”

Al­though bull­dozer ac­tiv­ity has slowed at cer­tain ar­eas on the Whit­taker-Ber­mite site, cleanup crews are op­ti­mistic they can still meet their cleanup dead­line of Dec. 31.

“I’m still op­ti­mistic that within the Novem­ber/December time frame we’ll get a res­o­lu­tion of this with this go-for­ward per­mit,” Amini said.

The gnat­catcher, ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, is at risk of ex­tinc­tion due to a dras­tic de­cline in nat­u­ral sage scrub habi­tat.

Of the 2.5 mil­lion acres of such habi­tat and chap­ar­ral that once stretched from Ven­tura County to the Mex­i­can bor­der, only 10 per­cent re­mains, they re­port on their web­site.

Sig­nal file photo

A Cal­i­for­nia gnat­catcher nest was found at the Whit­taker-Ber­mite site. The bird is a threat­ened species.

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