Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

Source: Los Padres ForestWatch

Last week the Forest Service announced a plan to log large trees and clear native chaparral habitat across 235,000 acres (368 square miles) within four of the five ranger districts of Los Padres National Forest. The announcement comes just a few months after conservation organizations, Patagonia, and two municipal governments filed lawsuits against the Forest Service over their approval of logging on Pine Mountain in Ventura County. The new project is 311 times larger and would fundamentally alter the landscape while taking limited funding away from more effective wildfire mitigation efforts such as home hardening and retrofits, community alert systems, and defensible space.

The announcement—signed by Forest Supervisor Chris Stubbs—included a letter and a short description of the new proposal, dubbed the “Ecological Restoration Project,” that was crafted behind closed doors in recent months. The project is likely the largest to ever be proposed for the Los Padres National Forest as it includes 48,000 acres of logging and other vegetation removal across several areas designated as “forest health treatment units” in addition to 186,000 acres of tree and shrub removal along roads, trails, and in many remote parts of the national forest. If approved, the project would allow the same activities the agency is planning on Pine Mountain—activities that were opposed by over 16,000 people, including tribal groups, elected officials, organizations, and businesses across the region—at an enormous scale.

The project would allow the use of heavy equipment to log live and dead trees up to two feet in diameter across many forested areas, and larger trees with no diameter limit could be removed across the 186,000 acres of vaguely described “fuel break and defense zones.” If the project moves forward and receives approval from the agency, damaging timber harvest and chaparral removal activities could take place from Mt. Pinos to Figueroa Mountain to Big Sur without any further site-specific environmental analysis or public notice.

“What the Forest Service is proposing here is truly massive and dangerous,” said ForestWatch director of conservation and research Bryant Baker. “It would facilitate the construction of dozens of ecologically damaging remote fuel breaks that have been shown time and again to fail under the extreme weather conditions that fuel the largest fires in our region.”

Many areas targeted for clearing are currently being reviewed by Congress for protection as wilderness under the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month and is awaiting a vote in the Senate as part of a larger legislative package. According to analysis of official mapping data obtained from the agency, about 35,000 acres of the new project overlaps with the new land designations.

Forest officials have indicated that they plan to prepare an environmental assessment for the nearly forest-wide project. While this involves more analysis than the loopholes the agency has been using to approve recent logging projects, it still only requires a single public comment period—ongoing until August 28 unless an extension is granted—and is less robust than an environmental impact statement, which is typically prepared for projects of this size and scope. The agency’s funding for the environmental review process comes from a $1.681 million grant from PG&E, a utility that has been responsible for some of the state’s largest and deadliest wildfires including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures. Because the company’s service area does not cover southern Ventura County, the entire Ojai Ranger District stretching from Pine Mountain Ridge to Ojai has been excluded from the project.

“PG&E is pouring millions into ecologically destructive projects while failing to address their own infrastructure’s deferred maintenance and ignition risk in the area,” said Baker, whose organization has filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act to learn more details about the funding.

For nearly 80% of the project area, there is no diameter limit for tree removal. The proposal states that only “some” trees would be retained in these areas. According to the agency, fuel breaks would be up to 1,500 feet wide depending on the vegetation type, but preliminary analysis of mapping data has revealed that several fuel breaks would be 2,000 to 5,000 feet wide. Researchers have found that fuel breaks are ineffective at limiting the spread of large wildfires, especially under extreme weather conditions such as Santa Ana or sundowner winds. These conditions have been a driving force of some of the region’s largest blazes, such as the 2017 Thomas Fire.

Scientists and conservation organizations have long advocated that instead of going to backcountry logging and vegetation removal projects, funding should be directed to creating defensible space directly next to homes, retrofitting and building structures with fire-safe materials, and reducing development in the wildland-urban interface. Areas where native trees and shrubs are removed with heavy equipment are also prone to being infested with non-native invasive plants that can increase wildfire risk.

The agency is currently accepting public comments on the proposal until August 28. Visit lpfw.org/ERP to easily submit a comment online. An interactive map showing the areas slated for logging and vegetation clearing can be found at lpfw.org/ERP-map.

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 lpfw.org.

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    • Please see the article I linked to about how the ancient sequoias in mariposa grove were saved by clearing brush, cutting down trees (aka logging) and conducting controlled burns. Had it not been for these efforts to restore the mariposa grove to its natural condition, the recent wildfire would have likely wiped out most of the 2000 year old giant sequoias in the grove. The same reasoning applies to this proposed project. If we do nothing, the forest will burn down to a moonscape. If we selective thin, log, and create clear spaces there will still be a healthy and thriving forest left after the next wildfire. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if we don’t clear and thin some of the forest now, a wildfire will clear all of the forest later.

    • VOICE – not spinning anything.
      You and CHIP argue: human intervention has caused the forest to get cluttered and caused more/worse fires.
      Also you and CHIP: we need human intervention to prevent the fires from being so bad.
      AGAIN, which is it? Not lie and run away. Explain this.

    • Sac, I understand your question and I think you bring up a good point. If the goal is to have our forests in a natural equilibrium, then why do humans need to meddle with them? I see two main reasons why intervention is required. First, the last century of fire suppression has driven the forest far from its natural equilibrium and caused unnaturally high density and an unnatural accumulation of dead vegetation. In this condition, fire would be unduly destructive to the forest. Intervening to thin and clear the forest is necessary in order to reintroduce fire in a less destructive way that is more consistent with the historic cycle of frequent low intensity fires. Stopping fire suppression cold turkey and allowing it all to burn would be extremely destructive. Second, human infrastructure blocks the natural propagation of fire. Roads, housing tracts, and agricultural operations all create unnatural fire breaks. In the absence of humans, lightning would spark fires all over the western us every year and these fires would burn and smolder unchecked for months until the rains stopped them. That is no longer possible with human civilization in the way. The solution is some limited intervention to try to replicate the natural propagation of fire as closely as possible. This would come in the form of extensive prescribed burns. The indigenous peoples of North America figures this out thousands of years ago, and the forest and humans alike benefitted from frequent low intensity fires until the white man came and implemented the fire suppression regime.

    • Sac, below is a link to the type of fire suppression I am talking about. The concept of universal fire suppression dates to the late 19th century, and was technically put into force in the very early 20th century. However, it was still challenging to reach fires in extremely remote areas. The use of aircraft took firefighting to another level, and this trend was greatly accelerated with the abundance of surplus aircraft available after WWII.

    • Did they really though? How so? You mean by fighting fires that get close to homes/buildings? Wouldn’t leaving the forests and trees alone allow them to “clear” themselves? You’re against “fire suppression,” but for “clearing out” deadwood, trees, etc.
      Which is it? Leave the forests alone and let them do their thing, or continue to meddle with them, while saying human intervention is bad?

  1. this is flat out wrong and is nothing short of destroying the forest and it’s natural form. this is going to destroy natural habitats/homes for hundreds of species. Killing brush and healthy trees, bringing in heavy equipment to sensitive areas, displacing hundreds if not thousands of individual creatures that call this place home. I’d love to see which logging companies won this and how they won it. Seems highly suspicious and i hope to god that they stop this before it starts. i spend a lot of time in the Sespe, Pine Mountain, Reyes Peak, and have grown up backpacking the Los Padres Forest. This is totally illogical and destructive. Before you start defending this, I’d like to first ask, how much time have you spent there? Probably none.

  2. If these “environmentalist” organizations are able to delay this plan for long enough that a massive wildfire burns this beautiful forest land down to a moonscape, they will have ashes to n their hands. The condition of the forest today is far from natural, it is instead the product to f a century of human intervention in the form of fire suppression. Removing fire from an ecosystem that adapted to fire over millennia has created a dangerous imbalance. Disease is more prevalent, and merge trees are vulnerable to destruction because ladder dues have been built up by the elimination of frequent lo intensity fires. Selectively logging, clearing, and thinning the forest will help restore a more natural balance. Once this project is completed, the forest will be resilient and ready to resume the natural cycle of frequent lo intensity fires with minimal risk of destroying large
    Mature trees. However, if the “environmentalist” organizations are successful in delaying or blocking this project and perpetuating the way unnatural practice of fire suppression the complete destruction of this forest will be assured. I can’t wrap my head around why so-called environmentalists are opposed to restoring the forest to its natural condition and instead seem to be unknowingly hell bent on assuring its complete destruction.

  3. Many seem to take exception of logging and mechanical clearing. However, this is a low risk and highly controlled way to restore the forest to a more natural condition. Another approach is controlled burns, and combining co trolled burns with mechanical thinning and clearing is highly effective.. Here is an article explaining how and why not a single giant sequoia died in the recent fire in and around mariposa grove. In particular:
    “And most important, he noted, Yosemite crews have conducted 21 controlled burns in and around the Mariposa Grove since 1971. Those recreated natural conditions that occurred centuries ago when lightning strikes and burning by native tribes made fire a common part of the environment in the Sierra. The controlled burns and some moderate thinning of smaller fir trees removed dead wood and brush from the forest floor that otherwise could have caused the Washburn Fire to burn much hotter and more lethally to the big trees.”

  4. There are numerous natural causes of fires that we currently supress.
    Imagine lightning strikes during the monsoon season a year 1000 were the monsoon reaches SB County in August. Imagine 100’s of dry lightning strikes. No one there to put them out. The fires could conceivably burn for years if there is a drought, most of the time creeping along at low intensity, other times pushed fiercely by wind.
    SB County backcountry has several “volcanoes” like the one on the bluff in Hope Ranch that periodically produce live flame, but the primary natural cause of South Coast fires would be lightning and some of that was probably from as far away as the area around 1-5 we call the grapevine

  5. Out with the old, in with the new. Long overdue! Yet, the “Chicken little, the sky is falling,” wack jobs try to turn our forests into a burned out compost heap. Threatening homes and lives, enough of this policy which holds us hostage.
    Even the natives had controlled burns!
    I know, I know the problem is based on global warming and Orange Man. Maybe if it was their family or property which was destroyed these truly misguided folks would see it differently.
    Ya, right? Take your indignant, self righteous evangelical fervor over to Paradise, Ca and float that balloon! Once again, the Environmental Industrial Complex is trying to burden our society with their dogma. Yep, same ole’ folks, parade of clowns, Sierra Club, Green Peace, Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund and so on. In fact, fire erupted just now in western Goleta, time to hand a shovel and hose to these phonies and put them to work! But no, they’ll try to tie this up in court for years with their frivolous law suits which costs taxpayers millions and could be used for saving lives and property!

  6. All those who oppose Forrest clearing should go fight the next fire, our home in no. Calif was saved due to our fire dept. and their diligence on keeping up on clearing dead trees ant ground fuel under control. Areas close who failed on Forrest maintenance lost many homes.

  7. When you get rid of trees you get rid of shade. When you get rid of share you increase heat. When you increase heat you get water evaporation. When you get high heat and high water evaporation you create the perfect climate for Forrest fires.
    Logging 368 square miles will create the perfect storm for forest fires. Instead keep the shade, the trees and moisture in the ground, create health ecosystems that manage climate change. PG&E, bury your lines, that will prevent electrical fires! It’s not rocket science.

  8. The USFS was created about 1910 . It was designed as a road building ,mining and timber operation. In California USFS used federal fraudulent land surveys by Benson and Binge syndicates to steal homesteads in Monterey National Forest using un named surveyors. Then changed name to Santa Barbara National Forest. Another name change ,to Los Padres National Forest. Creating Wilderness that continues to change shape and size to this day.
    Moving forward we must use 7000 year old knowledge of the original people from Monterey to Ojai to heal what the USFS has destroyed in last 120 years.

  9. Oops corrected auto correct spelling…
    When you get rid of trees you get rid of shade. When you get rid of shade you increase heat. When you increase heat you get water evaporation. When you get high heat and high water evaporation you create the perfect climate for Forrest fires.
    Logging 368 square miles will create the perfect storm for forest fires. Instead keep the shade, and keep the trees and moisture in the ground, create healthy ecosystems that manage climate change.
    PG&E, bury your lines, that will prevent electrical fires! It’s not rocket science.

    • Sun, when you impose decades of mechanized fire suppression on a forest that was adapted to burn frequently, you set the stage for a megafire. Next time this forest burns, and it will burn even if pg&e buried all its power lines, the heat will be so intense that every single tree will be destroyed. It will take generations before new trees grow back and provide shade again. If this proposed project is completed, the next fire will burn with lower intensity, the tall trees will survive, and shade will remain.

  10. Fungi are forming important networks and partnerships all around us in the environment, moving resources and information in all directions between soil, water and other living things. To us, they exemplify the power of connection and cooperation—valuable traits in this precarious phase of life on Earth.
    Protecting Fungi protects forests, biodiversity, the economy, water resources, reduces the impact of climate change and much more,….
    Cutting down forest trees is counter productive, creates heat, water evaporation, loss of biodiversity, is not sustainable and expensive both to the forest and humans.
    On the other hand….
    “Fungi are Forest Management” they are efficient, economically feasible(free), sustainable(free and continuous), and ecologically sound (feeds biodiversity) .
    A win for the forests, trees, biodiversity and a Win for humankind.

    • SUN – fungi is amazing in that respect. Don’t bother with these folks though, they truly feel and believe to their core that the Earth needs humans to help her. She has taken care of her own for millions of years without ever needing hairless monkeys to rake her forests. She doesn’t need us mucking about with everything all the time!

  11. Way to go edhat.
    You let a couple of people who are the cut and paste specialists with no real experience use OTHER forests to tell us how to manage ours.
    You delete my totally legit reason for burning in the LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST, not some place in Oregon or Washington.
    That shit doesn’t work for our forest, which is what the article was about.

  12. Fiddling while Rome burns….
    Remember the Malibu fire?
    And the Paradise fire?
    Must be others that should let people see that overgrown fires need pruning
    every 50 years at least.
    Else they will burn.
    But the smoke will stop Earthy Warming?
    Or soot blocks the sunlight and cools temps down.
    Just a theory.

  13. Here is a great short documentary about how the karuk tribe in Northern California are fighting in a race against time to reintroduce low intensity fire to their ancestral lands. State and federal regulations forced them to stop their traditional practices of setting fire to the forest. As a result, their 1.2 million acres of tribal lands are in grave danger. Now, after a century of misguided fire suppression policies promoted by the timber industry, the tribe is finally being allowed to resume its traditional practices of forest management. Unfortunately, it’s not happening fast enough and a high intensity wildfire could wipe out their forest for generations.

  14. At those low intesities of the past, even the fungi benefited.
    Years ago I read an article that showed how some individual CA fires were thought to have sometimes burned through dry winters and lasted for several years.
    Fires that originated due to Sierra lightning may have made it west to the coast and out east into Nevada.
    Also most of the fires in the SB area originated as far backcountry from what is now the grapevine area, Tehachapit Transverse range and from the closer San Rafael and Santa Ynez ranges.
    It was thought that every once in a while, a “volcano” like the one above the beach in Hope Ranch would start a larger fire as well.
    Early european vistitors to Calif. remarked that they could only rartely see the Sierra Mountains during the summer and fall due to the constant smoke

  15. Apologies in advance for cut and pasting science into a religious discussion.
    Prehistoric fire history in CA shows that before suppression CA burns averaged 1.8 million hectares annually which adds up to 4,400,000 acres. 2021 burns in CA covered only 2,600,000. If the forest has evolved to sustain itself healthily at 4.4M acres anually, then last year we had a deficit of 1.8M acres.
    This site concludes with solutions:
    “Air quality policies could be modified to allow more WFU (Woodland Fire Use),
    classifying these events as natural sources of emissions would
    be a positive step. Currently WFU fires are classified as
    anthropogenic sources of emissions and this reduces the
    capacity to burn even moderate spatial scales. Increasing the
    spatial extent of AMR suppression fire in California is another
    important management objective. Political support for
    increased use of WFU and AMR needs to occur at local,
    state, and federal levels because increasing the spatial scale of
    fire will increase smoke and inevitability, a few fires will escape
    their predefined boundaries.”

    • Excellent point edney. I think a lot of people dont realize the extent of natural fires prior to human intervention. In addition, I think it is important to note how different the character of the historical 4 million acres of fire per year is compared to the more recent 2 million acres of fire. The historic 4 million acres of annul fire was primarily low intensity. Mature trees would have survived these large, but low intensity fires. By contrast, recent fires are much hotter due to the build up of fuels caused by decades of suppression. As a result of human intervention, these recent fires are extremely destructive and leave little life in their wake.

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