Proposed Los Padres National Forest Project Will Impact Recreation, Habitat and Threatened Species | Rhetoric & Reason | San Luis Obispo

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In the hierarchy of environmental law, projects proposed by federal agencies are subject to one of two types of review: environmental analysis, a once too light analysis that often results in a conclusion of no significant impact. This level of analysis is obviously intended for projects unlikely to have a significant impact on the environment.

The other type of review is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIA), a very detailed, lengthy and in-depth review intended for large projects that may have major impacts.

The US Forest Service has proposed an “Ecological Restoration Project” for the Los Padres National Forest. He plans to cut down trees and clear native chaparral habitat on 235,000 acres, covering the Mount Pinos, Santa Lucia, Monterey and Santa Barbara ranger districts.

It has the potential for considerable significant impacts on 63,000 acres of designated critical habitat and 19 listed species. This could significantly alter 134,000 acres of scheduled road-free zones and 92,000 acres of potential wilderness, and impact 14 species and 64,000 acres of critical habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act. This will impact outdoor recreation, soil and water resources, and climate change.

And just for good measure, thousands of acres of land set aside for special wilderness or scenic area protection by the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act are included.

It’s all supposed to be a matter of fire protection, but wildfire research has repeatedly shown that the removal of vegetation from a distance – particularly in the form of chaparral clearing and tree cutting mature – is at best ineffective as a fire mitigation strategy and at worst could increase fire risk.

“Wow,” I hear you say, “good thing they’re doing an environmental impact statement!”

You are so young and innocent. The Forest Service has made it clear that it intends to prepare an environmental assessment – ​​this limited, superficial, one-time assessment for minor projects – and call it good.

Looking at a map of the project area, one has to wonder what part of the “big project” the Forest Service doesn’t understand.

Which reminds me: In 2003, George W. Bush launched the Healthy Forests Initiative, which my colleagues at the Sierra Club immediately dubbed “No Tree Left Behind.” A boon for logging companies based on the false premise that landscape-scale logging – aggressively “thinning” millions of acres of backcountry forests miles from communities – will reduce wildfires, the HFI also made sure to include categorical exemptions to this notoriously strict standard of review, an environmental impact statement.

The Sierra Club noted that this was a proposal “to limit environmental impact analysis, repeal the public’s ability to appeal bad projects, increase the degradation of wild forests, and set back scientific forest management by 40 years.” . The Sierra Club sued this EIS exemption provision, and the court later found that the Forest Service’s assertion of an outright exclusion of an EIS “was arbitrary and capricious.”

It was before, it is now. On September 27, Los Padres ForestWatch, the Santa Lucia and Santa Barbara/Ventura chapters of the Sierra Club, and half a dozen other environmental organizations sent the Forest Service a 68-page letter detailing the highly problematic nature of its decision to prosecute. its “Ecological Restoration” Project without a full environmental impact statement.

Some takeaways:

• US Forest Service regulations specifically identify two categories of actions that “require environmental impact statements”. Of these two categories of actions, Class 2 actions include those “that would significantly alter the undeveloped character of a scheduled roadless area or potential wilderness area”. The ‘Restoration Project’ will have a significant impact on the undeveloped character of thousands of acres in scheduled no-road areas and potential wilderness areas.

• In 2018, the United States Forest Service prepared an EIA for the Monterey Ranger District Strategic Community Fuel Break Improvement Project that covered only 542 acres in the Ventana Wilderness section of the National Forest. of Los Padres and had only a fraction of the significant impacts of this project. is likely to have.

• Habitat for animal species in the project area protected under the Endangered Species Act includes identified critical habitat for the arroyo toad, California condor, California red-legged frog, conservation fairy shrimp, Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, and vernal pool fairy shrimp. It also includes 22.4 miles of streams designated as critical habitat for Southern California rainbow trout and 18.6 miles of streams designated as critical habitat for rainbow trout. skies of the south-central California coast.

• The National Forest Management Act directs the US Forest Service to develop land management plans called “forest plans” to guide the management of forest resources. The US Forest Service implements a forest plan by approving or disapproving particular projects. Proposed projects must be consistent with the forest plan. The project as currently proposed is inconsistent with the Los Padres Forest Plan, resulting in a significant effect that must be fully analyzed in an EIA.

You can send your own message to the Forest Service.

The rules are there for a reason. The US Forest Service must prepare an EIA because the magnitude and known significance of the project’s impacts require it. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club. Contact him through the editor at [email protected]

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