District Court Rules in Favor of Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project on Los Padres National Forest

By Nick Smith, American Forest Resource Council

An effort to reduce wildfire risks on the Los Padres National Forest and protect nearby communities can proceed after U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips [Monday] ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service’s Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project above Frazier Park, Calif. 

The Tecuya Project has been tied up in federal courts for the past several years. Throughout the process the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), California Forestry Association and Associated California Loggers have intervened in litigation to defend the Forest Service.

The project consists of 1,626 acres identified by the Mt. Pinos Community Wildfire Protection Plan and the Los Padres National Forest Strategic Fuelbreak Assessment as priority areas for wildfire mitigation treatments including mechanical thinning.  Its purpose is to provide safe and effective locations for fire suppression efforts, slow the speed of wildfire, and reduce the potential for loss of life, property, and natural resources.

“The Tecuya Ridge Project authorizes thinning activities to create a much-needed shaded fuelbreak that will help increase the forest’s resilience to insect and disease infestations and protect the nearby communities in the Wildland Urban Interface,” said AFRC General Counsel Sara Ghafouri.  “We have supported the Forest Service’s efforts to move the project forward given that this fuelbreak seeks to protect almost 3,800 homes and was prioritized and ranked second out of the 35 fuelbreaks evaluated during the Los Padres National Forest’s strategic review.”

In developing the project, anti-forestry groups had claimed the Forest Service illegally relied on a “timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement” categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act, failed to assess impacts to the California condor, and violated the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule). 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Walsh rejected those claims in August 2020, though the groups later appealed the ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit. In February 2020, a Ninth Circuit panel determined the Forest Service had properly used the categorical exclusion to develop the project, but had failed to document and explain how the project fit within an exception the agency is using to harvest timber under the Roadless Rule.

Under the Roadless Rule, timber harvest may occur in inventoried roadless areas if the Forest Service determines that “[t]he cutting, sale, or removal of generally small diameter timber is needed” to “reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects” and “will maintain or improve one or more of the roadless area characteristics.”

The Ninth Circuit remanded the project back Forest Service for further analysis. The Los Padres National Forest later issued a revised Decision Memo with additional analysis to address the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on treatment in the roadless area. Despite efforts by opponents to derail the project in court once again, Judge Phillips ruled the agency complied with the Ninth Circuit’s remand order.

“We are pleased Judge Phillips ruled in favor of this project allowing public land managers to implement this project to improve the health of these forests, while helping to protect local communities from wildfire,” Ghafouri said. “As California continues to face severe and devastating wildfires, it is important for public agencies to quickly take action to mitigate these extreme risks to people, homes and our public lands.”

About the American Forest Resource Council

AFRC is a regional trade association representing over 50 forest product businesses and forest landowners whose purpose is to advocate for sustained yield timber harvests on public timberlands throughout the West to enhance forest health and resistance to fire, insects, and disease. We do this by promoting active management to attain productive public forests, protect adjoining private forests, and assure community stability. We work to improve federal and state laws, regulations, policies, and decisions regarding access to and management of public forest lands and protection of all forest lands. AFRC strongly believes that healthy managed forests are essential to the integrity of both ecosystems and communities. For more information, visit amforest.org


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    • BASIC – I agree completely, especially being a “roadless area.” Seems all this “mitigation” is just a guise for hauling out more $lumber$.
      How did the forest ever get along before humans created “much-needed shaded fuelbreaks that will help increase the forest’s resilience to insect and disease infestations?’

    • Why is no one understanding this bigly problem? We need to rake the forest like Finland does. Everybody needs to get gardening tools and clean up the forest, just like Finland when they aren’t making cuckoo clocks or chocolate or whatever they do there. A lot of people, the best people, so many people are saying this is a phenomenal idea. But Pocahontas and Crazy Nancy want to burn down your house! Sad!

    • Sac, the whole point of mechanically thinning, or “raking” the forest is to restore it to a natural condition without a fire. Decades of fire suppression cause forests to become overgrown, and the build up of fuel means a low intensity fire clearing it out is no longer possible. Instead, a high intensity fire would result, threatening larger mature trees. Scientists recognized that fire suppression had put the giant sequoias in danger by creating an unnatural build up of vegetation long ago. In order to protect the cherished ancient sequoias in the mariposa grove they “raked” the forest to clear overgrowth and they carried out many planned burns. This approach restored the grove to a more natural state without harming the ancient trees. As a result, the recent fire that swept through the area did not harm any of the giant sequoias in mariposa grove. This is a great result! I believe forest management practices should be designed to keep the forest in a condition as close to its natural state as possible. Mechanical thinning, or “raking” the forest is a very effective tool that can be used to save mature trees.

    • CHIP – I get that, but what works in a grove is not necessarily feasible in the entire forest. Here’s the problem though, which EDNEY somewhat brings up – do we just cease ALL fire suppression (ie, putting out fires)? No, obviously we can just let them burn, unless they’re far from homes and pose no risk. So, what do we do? Fire suppression is a necessity now that humans live closer to and in the forests. Thinning only makes sense near homes, not far out where they’re doing it.
      I feel like a bigger point we’re missing (or intentionally avoiding) though, is how the change in our climate has an affect on the severity of wildfires. Thinning out forests that are miles from any homes is fine and dandy, but we can’t ignore all the factors that contribute to the much more intense fires we’ve seen in the last few decades. Dead trees and forest floor clutter isn’t the only factor…..

    • SAIL – not true. I agree with and support creating firebreaks to protect the communities, like they do in our foothills, but not way off in the middle of the forest where there are no roads like this.
      And what “human intervention” are you talking about? Putting out fires? “Thinning” is a form of human intervention. Why not leave it as is and let it burn out there?

    • While “thinning” is a human intervention it is a human intervention intended to mimic or the naturally occurring processes of the forest. Leaving it “as-is” is leaving it in non-natural / overgrown state with decades of dead brush/trees/limbs built up so when it does burn it would be a unnatural inferno that destroys all plant/animal life leaving an unnatural, barren and scorched earth behind (vs. natural and regular smaller scale fires that clear the underbrush without destroying the mature trees).

    • Yes, since the white man started intervening in the 1900’s by putting out any and all fires. Because a lot of our forest is not currently in a natural state, low-intensity fires won’t occur in those areas, they’ll be big ones unless addressed with a planned burn during ideal weather conditions. Planned burns do help mitigate this on a smaller scale. Firebreaks do not, they’re for containment and access. Also mans fault, manmade fires, which seem to occur at the absolute worst times weather wise.

  1. Communities that are tight against the USDA or BLM forest interface should provide their own fire protection and provide their own fire buffers. The court decisions would have to be made before fires and spell out the actions agreed to by the parties with the local community responsible for repercussions of their decisions.
    Science says to let the forests return to their historical burn schedule and fires will be more frequent, but less intense.
    Finally, human caused fires are natural. Humans are animals, primates of a type and fires propagated by humans for whatever reasons are natural

  2. The NF boundary between County, City is jurisdictionally different.
    Forest in CA typically burned 4 million acres a year before intervention.
    Now we think 1 million acres is a huge problem and indicative of climate change.
    CA forest lands need to burn every 10 or so years not every 30 with huge build ups of fuel

  3. EDNY – Yeah, you said that already, but I’m asking what you propose we do about fires that are threatening communities? You said “let the forests burn” and human caused fires “should require a court order” before fighting. So, once again, are you really saying to let the fires burn out of control if they’re near homes?

  4. EDNEY – if communities are allowed to fight fires, albeit on their own, then why is it any different than the Dept. of Ag doing it? Is this a tax dollar issue or a keep the forest natural issue? Either way, leaving fire defense to the hands of what is usually a small, rural community doesn’t seem safe.

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