Pine Mountain Logging Project is Wrong for All the Right Reasons
By Graciela Cabello and Richard Rojas, Sr.
High atop a ridgeline in the Los Padres National Forest located about 67 miles from the city of Santa Barbara and 116 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service plans to log a section of old-growth forest and grind up chaparral across 755 acres deep in the Ventura County backcountry. This special place is known as Pine Mountain. Having spent much of our lives on California’s Central Coast, we understand the value this unique mountain ridge adds to the area. That’s why we are using our voices to bring awareness of this project to the public and to ensure everyone has a say in protecting Pine Mountain.
Preserving the natural environment is an important issue for us and other Latino families. These lands have been a point of connection for us. They have taught us about our heritage, strengthened our family ties, and enriched our lives. Research shows that 85% of Latinos in Western States favor a national goal to protect 30% of America’s land and ocean areas by 2030. And 91% say their top priority for conserving natural areas is for future generations. This is consistent with the conservation ethos that was instilled in us at a young age to protect our Madre Tierra (Mother Earth), and the values we continue to share with the younger generation.
The proposed project encompasses 755 acres—roughly the size of 575 American football fields. Despite the massive size of the project, the Forest Service intends to use two controversial loopholes to bypass requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to conduct a detailed study of potential impacts on the area’s unique ecosystems. These loopholes would also limit the public’s ability to voice their concerns while eliminating the official objection process that helps reduce the potential for litigation.
It is probably no coincidence that President Trump issued an executive order in December 2018 to increase the pace and scale of these types of projects in national forests specifically, which included a directive to sell 3.8 million board feet of timber. Subsequent USFS memos directed national forest officials to “use creative methods” to achieve this goal with minimal environmental review. This is the third commercial logging project proposed within the same area in the last two years. An area that had not been approved for logging in decades. The other two, Cuddy Valley and Tecuya Ridge, were approved using the same categorical exclusion loophole.
The Pine Mountain project area is also home to many Chumash Indian hunting and ceremonial sites. The Chumash territory is said to have covered 7,000 square miles - from the Channel Islands to Malibu up to Paso Robles and inland to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley during the 1700s. Mt. Pinos (Iwihinmu'u) has been referenced as a sacred site, and the area of Mt. Pinos, Cuddy Valley (Valley of the Shaman), and Frazier Mountain (Toshololo) was the center of their universe. This expanse of land continues to be a sacred and culturally significant area for the Chumash people today. The unmitigated removal of old-growth chaparral and the logging of coniferous trees through the use of soil-disturbing heavy equipment will undoubtedly harm sensitive archeological sites that have been undisturbed for generations.
The Los Padres National Forest is situated in one of the most diverse ecoregions in the world and is also considered one of the most endangered areas for its rapidly declining species. North of Pine Mountain is Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge— a recovery site for the rare and endangered California condor. Fast-tracking a logging project through Pine Mountain will not adequately identify the impact on birds like the California condor that historically used the area for nesting and roosting or to the hundreds of species of native plants, many of which themselves are quite rare or sensitive. As a biodiversity hotspot, mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, and numerous species of birds and small mammals depend on the mountain’s unique ecosystems.
Many residents live in Southern California because of its world-class recreational opportunities, proximity to natural places, and unique quality of life. Pine Mountain is one of just a few truly forested areas in the region and is considered a popular destination for families, campers, hikers, backpackers, and equestrian trail riders seeking the challenge and solitude only found by exploring the area’s rugged backcountry. It is no coincidence that the very uniqueness of an old-growth conifer forest, native chaparral ecosystem, and challenging backcountry trails make the Pine Mountain area so exceptional for many Santa Barbara and Ventura County residents looking for relief from the stressors of commuting, traffic, pollution, and the high cost of living in California. So, while the Pine Mountain area is not likely to ever become as popular as Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, or Channel Islands National Parks, it is important to know how a project like the one proposed by the Forest Service will negatively impact this national treasure in our own backyard.
As the spread of the COVID-19 rates of infection and death rates continue to spiral out of control, the U.S. economy continues to tank, and the upcoming presidential election dominates the attention of many Americans, projects like the Pine Mountain project—and dozens or hundreds more like it across the country—will proceed with less media attention or public opposition. All of these issues are connected and deserving of our attention. Our children, our grandchildren, and future generations are depending on our community to stop this project before it gets started -- for all of the right reasons.
Visit ProtectPineMountain.com to submit your comment.
Richard Rojas Sr. is a community consultant, retired superintendent of California State Parks, former Santa Barbara County resident, and the advisory chair of Latino Outdoors.
Graciela Cabello is the Director of Youth and Community Engagement with Los Padres ForestWatch and a trustee with Wilderness Youth Project. She grew up recreating in the Los Padres and works on supporting reconnections to the forest.
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