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Editorial: Sage Hill preservation would be small expense to UCLA

By Editorial Board

Oct. 14, 2013 1:37 a.m.

Throughout UCLA’s campus, building is the trend.

The Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center will soon rise from the rubble of what was Ackerman turnaround and Parking Structure 6 and in soon, building crews are expected to break ground on a $50 million privately funded football facility just west of Spaulding Field.

But even as UCLA has spent millions to develop portions of campus, it has failed to make the financial commitment necessary to not develop a small segment of flora and fauna located just south of Sunset Boulevard.

Sage Hill lies in the northwest corner of campus, a four-acre tract of wildlife area that still contains species native to Southern California,including mammals like the California ground squirrel, the mule deer and Botta’s pocket gopher.

As UCLA geography professor Thomas Gillespie wrote in a submission to the Daily Bruin Friday, development in surrounding areas decimated animals like the bobcat and plants like California buckwheat.

In 2009, a good portion of Sage Hill’s native vegetation was cut with little notice and without the consultation of environmental faculty and stakeholders. In its absence, the area is being overrun by non-native vegetation that poses a fire hazard.

Over the years, students and faculty have requested UCLA officials to remove the dangerous and destructive non-native grasses and undertake several renovation projects to clean up and preserve the environmental sanctity of Sage Hill. Those requests have gone unnoticed and unfunded, with the university citing financial shortfalls.

In 2012, UCLA Capital Programs finally noticed the site, not for its environmental benefit but for its potential to be leveled. The idea, which garnered some interest from donors, called for an Olympic-sized archery range and a 5,000 square foot clubhouse to be built on portions of Sage Hill, a project that would have required the school to cut down nearly century-old sycamore trees.

If UCLA can attract donors for an archery field – not to mention for massive projects like the Luskin Center – surely it can drum up the funding to make some basic improvements to Sage Hill that will help protect native species and maintain the area as a valuable teaching and environmental resource.

The improvements Gillespie has been asking for are simple and cheap – the installation of a trash can and the removal of some unused piping. Once those changes are made, UCLA can have a conversation about a larger-scale preservation project.

These small expenses would be justified. In fall 2013 alone, UCLA offered 24 undergraduate geography courses and 30 undergraduate ecology and evolutionary biology courses. Some geography and environmental science faculty already take their students to the site, the perfect location to teach the practice of taking a biological inventory.

In addition, the research possibilities at Sage Hill, especially with a clean slate of native Southern California species, are immense.

Efforts to preserve the four-acre tract full of sage scrub and live oaks, which accounts for less than 1 percent of UCLA’s total land area for the sake of environmental concerns and educational purposes alike cannot be ignored by university officials any longer.

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