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Sweet Springs eucalyptus safe--for now 

Roughly 120 non-native eucalyptus trees have been spared from the chopping block at the Sweet Springs East nature preserve in Los Osos.

In light of the preserve’s ongoing restoration project, recent studies have shown that removal of the trees would have an impact on migratory monarch butterflies.

The Morro Coast Audubon Society will continue to investigate other potential environmental impacts, prior to removing any trees from the eight-acre Sweet Springs East nature preserve. The group had initially proposed removing them in an effort to restore indigenous plant and animal populations.

The Audubon Society has used grant money provided by the California Coastal Conservancy to help fund its environmental impact report. The report listed concerns with the displacement of the monarch butterflies and hawk populations, should the trees eventually be removed.

Cal Poly biological sciences professor Francis Villablanca, of the Monarch Alert Project, has completed a survey on monarch populations and Habitat Utilization for the report. The investigation found neither the central or eastern sections of the preserve were being used as autumnal sites for the butterflies. However, small monarch clusters were detected during the winter.

“Their presence is indisputable,” Villablanca said in the report. “Removing individual trees may have a small, though negative, effect on overwintering monarchs.”

The Audubon Society has named the Morro Shoulderband Snail, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Blochman’s Leafy Daisy as rare or endangered species associated with the project site. The paradox: the trees threaten some of the species found on the preserve while harboring others.

Sweet Springs Preserve Manager Holly Sletteland knows there are advantages and disadvantages to removing the eucalyptus trees.

“Our goal is to minimize the downsides and reap as many benefits as possible. We want people to know what’s going on,” Sletteland told New Times. “But we have not abandoned that idea—we’re still investigating it.”

With the idea of a less-drastic minor use permit being floated, the group hopes the county planning commission will issue approval to build boardwalks, benches, and viewing platforms.

Sletteland said no hawks have been found nesting on the actual site. A pair of red-shouldered hawks were, however, found nesting on nearby Third Street.

“I don’t anticipate that we would do anything prior to next summer,” Sletteland said. “It will take that long to get things approved and we would want to avoid nesting season for the birds.”

Other aspects of the restoration project include a hiking trail and a viewing platform. Work toward those could begin as early as spring.

To view the environmental report and the minor use permit application visit the Audobon Society’s website at morrocoastaudubon.org.

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