Court Rules in Favor of Controversial Logging and Chaparral Clearing Project on Pine Mountain

By the Environmental Defense Center, Los Padres ForestWatch, and Patagonia

Wednesday, a federal judge declined to halt a controversial logging and vegetation clearing project atop Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak in the Los Padres National Forest. The ruling comes nearly two years after the project was approved despite the opposition of Indigenous groups, conservation organizations, scientists, businesses, local governments, and members of the general public who submitted a collective 16,000 comments to the Forest Service. 

In 2022, a coalition of conservation organizations, the County of Ventura, and the City of Ojai filed lawsuits against the Forest Service on the grounds that the logging and chaparral clearing project would violate environmental laws, harm vulnerable wildlife, and do irreparable damage to intact roadless areas of the forest.  

The judge’s ruling would allow the Forest Service to use heavy equipment to cut and potentially sell native trees and grind shrubs across 755 acres on the top of Pine Mountain. 

“We believe this ruling is incorrect and are working with our legal team to determine next steps,” said Jeff Kuyper, Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “We will explore all of our options for protecting Pine Mountain from a misguided and potentially damaging project.” 

The project area—equivalent in size to 575 American football fields—is located on ancestral lands of the Chumash. It is historically and culturally important to Indigenous people, popular with locals and tourists for a range of recreational activities, designated critical habitat for the endangered California condor, and home to other sensitive wildlife, rare plants, old-growth conifer forests, and unique ecosystems. 

The Forest Service received more comments on this proposal than any other project in the history of the Los Padres. Over 99% of the comments opposed the project. Indigenous groups, ecologists at UCSB, archaeologists, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists, dozens of conservation organizations, and thousands of people in Ventura County and the surrounding region weighed in during the single public comment period in 2020, requesting that major changes be made to the project and/or that the agency prepare a more robust environmental assessment or environmental impact statement before moving forward. Most commenters were concerned about the use of heavy equipment to cut trees up to and larger than two feet in diameter as well as grind native shrubs into mulch. These requests and concerns were dismissed by the Forest Service, which did not make any changes to the project when approving it in 2021.  

“Logging on Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak would permanently disfigure a pristine natural area, harm wildlife, and deface a sacred cultural site. We’re reviewing the decision and discussing next steps to protect this beautiful and ecologically critical part of the forest,” said Maggie Hall, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Defense Center.  

The lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, Roadless Area Conservation Rule, Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, and took aim at the Forest Service’s failure to collaborate with stakeholders. Such collaboration is required whenever the Forest Service relies on a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act to expedite a project.  

“We had hoped the court would rule in favor of the planet, biodiversity and the community,” said Hans Cole, head of Environmental Activism at Patagonia. “We’re disappointed, but the work to protect Pine Mountain will continue. Pine Mountain is 90 minutes from our headquarters in Ventura and the area is important to our employees and customers because of its outdoor recreation opportunities, including rock climbing, hiking and camping.  We’ll keep advocating for more conservation of Los Padres National Forest, including the provisions proposed in the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, and we’ll keep urging the federal government to protect mature and old-growth trees.” 

The plaintiffs claimed that the Forest Service violated the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule’s prohibition on the removal of larger trees. The suit also alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act for allowing the removal of an unlimited number of large trees in which endangered California condors roost, providing places to rest during long flights across the landscape. The project would also harm rare California spotted owls, northern goshawks, rare plants, and two species of bats whose populations are declining. 

The plaintiffs also alleged that the project violates the National Forest Management Act because the agency failed to comply with the Los Padres National Forest Plan standards that protect scenic integrity and the natural character of the area. Clearing thousands of trees and hundreds of acres of chaparral on Pine Mountain, an area prized for its natural beauty and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, is a drastic elimination of native vegetation with effects that will linger for generations and is not allowed under the 2005 Forest Plan for the Los Padres National Forest. 

Plaintiffs are Los Padres ForestWatch, Keep Sespe Wild Committee, Earth Island Institute, and American Alpine Club, collectively represented by the Environmental Defense Center; and the Center for Biological Diversity, California Chaparral Institute, and Patagonia Works, represented by the Center for Biological Diversity.  

Los Padres ForestWatch

Written by Los Padres ForestWatch

Los Padres ForestWatch is a nonprofit that protects wildlife, wilderness, water, and sustainable access throughout the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Learn more at

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  1. I did not read ANYTHING that says they are going to clear cut 775 acres of trees. We need responsible logging and forestry service to help with fire safety. This too has been made more dire due to global warming. The whole City of Goleta, Santa Barbara, Ojai and Ventura area reprehensible insult to the Chumash people. You cannot just let a forest be a forest. The fuel needs to be managed.

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  2. This Judge should be held liable for creating the perfect storm for Mudslides ….logging creates Mudslides/lanslides by removing the very foundation that prevent them. We are expecting a severe EL Nino , the size worse than 1997…We already have to evacuate Cities due to fires that cause Mudslides with a map created…this Judge just unleashed an even a greater area to have to e vacate due to mudslides….criminal!

  3. There simply were not enough compelling arguments to stop the brush clearing. Attempts to sway courts simply with emotions and feeling is not going to work in this day and age. The “outrage” displayed by these groups was not genuine, and the courts were able to see right through it. On a positive note, the clearing will certainly reduce future large fires in the affected areas.

    • The days of not managing our forests, wildlands, and resources is over. Simply look at the Thomas Fire, Jesusita Fire, Alisal Fire, Whittier Fire, and the list goes on and on. Had these areas been properly managed, they would not have all burned down to a crisp….then came the mudslides, death, and destruction. Sorry folks, manage it now or let it burn later with mudslides and destruction to follow. Simple formula to follow, but some would rather all of our forests, chaparral, and brushlands burn to a crisp. “But, but, but we f-e-l-t that it was the right thing to do….not our fault….whine…..”

    • Bring on the agent orange baby! Defoliate everything and fire will have nowhere to hide.
      There is nothing that could have prevented the Thomas fire except proper utility maintenance. The Jesusita fire was human caused, so you want to defoliate the countryside to prevent future stupidity. The Cave fire: intentionally set, human caused, Andrea died as a result of a neighbor’s black-hearted deed. Sycamore fire and Coyote fires: human origin. It is disingenuous to claim any benefit to clearing a mountain top of trees that lies in the midst of tens of thousands of acres of wild lands, and is 15 miles distant from the nearest population center.

    • Logic doesn’t work with these people.
      Facts don’t matter.
      There is simply a group of people in this country who are fed by Fox and powered by ignorance. People like this are entirely bought in to the notion that they are victims subject to some vast conspiracy.
      But keep on raking the forest folks!

    • Again, why exactly do you think you have greater understanding, expertise or insight in to this issue than Chumash peoples who have been on this land for over ten thousand years or ecologists and scientists who spend their days studying these issues?
      If anyone is operating based on their F-E-EE-EELINGS…
      it’s you.

  4. At a time when the Earth is being ravaged by the effects of global warming due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the very idea of chopping down 755 acres of trees that help to cleanse the air of carbon truly is a travesty. It is also a reprehensible insult to the Chumash and other indigenous people who consider these lands sacred, and the many, many other Americans and visitors who enjoy spending time is these wooded park lands.

  5. “ The Forest Service received more comments on this proposal than any other project in the history of the Los Padres. Over 99% of the comments opposed the project. Indigenous groups, ecologists at UCSB, archaeologists, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists, dozens of conservation organizations, and thousands of people in Ventura County and the surrounding region weighed in during the single public comment period in 2020, requesting that major changes be made to the project and/or that the agency prepare a more robust environmental assessment or environmental impact statement before moving forward.”
    99% is an awfully high number. When you solicit comments and then completely ignore them, the words sham, fraud, and corruption come to mind.
    If you think the Forest Service, who have been previously corrupted by Nestle, and the Feds are doing this for our benefit or “fire safety” you havn’t been paying attention to how either of these systemically corrupt organizations operate.

  6. The U.S. Forest Service has been “managing” our forest lands for well over a 125 years… and not always in the best way. Perhaps if we had let nature take its course, things would be different today. The constant interference, via fire suppression/management, grazing, logging, etc. has led us here. ALL humans have helped to create the current situation and continue to tinker, sometimes with no other options possible (Yosemite). Not sure we will ever be able to take a hands off approach now.

  7. Logging?
    Bring an experience logging professional down from the Pacific Northwest and take a drive up Pine Mountain Ridge road; he/she/they will say that there is not enough timber to justify a logging operaion, especially considering the damage such would cause to the environment.
    Clearing dead-falls, and clearing dead underbrush is what is needed.
    I want to know who the expert is who thinks that logging can be done for any purpose.
    I was last up there summer of 2015, and even before the Thomas fire there was not anything worth logging.
    This is insanity!
    Leave our mountain alone!

  8. Of course, removing an area 10 times the size of the City Of Santa Barbara is going to make the forest more dry, killing more trees and shrubs, creating more fires..oh and the oil wells and pipeline leased by the Forrest Service doesn’t create any fire hazard or toxic mess? Decades of drenching the Forrest in glyphosate (round up) kills root systems of all plants trees, shrubs etc…I guess Canada deforested where the Tarsand toxic mess is to prevent fires? How is Canada doing …it’s on on fire? The oil industry wants to frack the crap out of Los padres…they need a pipeline…

MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN: Tahiti in Santa Barbara

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