Source: Los Padres National Forest
On June 21 and June 24, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court denied petitions to rehear challenges to a pair of forest health and fuels reduction projects on Los Padres National Forest’s Mt. Pinos Ranger District.
External groups sued the U.S. Forest Service for using a categorical exclusion (CE), but the Court upheld the Forest’s science-based defense of these projects to address tree mortality and the dangerous accumulation of fuels on the forest floor. A CE may be applied when a project falls within a category of actions authorized by Congress that will not have a significant effect on the environment. When a CE is applied, an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) is not required for the project. By using a CE, land management agencies can reduce paperwork and save significant time and resources while still providing essential protections for sensitive cultural and natural resources.
The Cuddy Valley Forest Health and Fuels Reduction project will treat 1,200 acres heavily impacted by the Ips bark beetle that has contributed to widespread tree mortality. A combination of mechanical treatments, including mastication of brush and smaller trees as well as hand treatments to reduce overstocking and prescribed burning will be used to enhance these diseased stands and promote fire hazard reduction and forest health. Specialists on-site will ensure endangered and sensitive species are not impacted during project implementation.
After completing additional analysis of the Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak and Fuels Reduction project, implementation of the upcoming decision for the project will create safe and effective locations for wildland firefighters to safely perform fire suppression operations. Shaded fuelbreaks help to slow the spread of a wildfire and provide a buffer between developed areas and wildlands. The project would include timber stand improvements such as thinning that reduce the unhealthy stand densities and increase the forest’s resilience to insects, disease, and drought. The Tecuya Ridge project consists of 1,626 acres along Tecuya Mountain above the communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods, Pine Mountain Club and Pinon Pine Estates.
“The Forest Service has an obligation to work with residents, community groups, and local fire safe councils to improve conditions in areas hit hardest by insect and disease, drought and a changing climate,” said Forest Supervisor Chris Stubbs. “We’re now prepared to move forward with these critical projects to help protect the communities in and around the Mt. Pinos Ranger District. The Court’s decision is a major victory for forest health, for the environment, and for human communities threatened by wildfire.”
These projects were both developed in collaboration with local individuals, tribes, and community groups to establish priorities, cooperate on activities, and increase public awareness.