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

Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest title=
Photo: Bryant Baker / LPFW
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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.

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sacjon Aug 05, 2022 11:39 AM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

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?

Chip of SB Aug 04, 2022 03:50 PM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

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.

Babycakes Aug 04, 2022 02:17 PM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

Brush and leaf clearing around your property must be done if you live in/around our foothills, and even within the city if you have a lot of vegetation ("fuel"). The forestry and fire department see this vegetation as fuel and something to get rid of as soon as possible. Oaks and Eucalyptus are the main culprits to be concerned about as both drop huge amounts of leaves and dried broken branches. The leaves and branches are nothing but fuel for any fire to come through, so be sure to clear these things away from your homes. This same principal is applicable even on a much larger scale as being proposed. Thomas fire would have not been as bad as it was had vegetation/fuel been cleaned up, but people kicked/screamed for some reason citing something about ruining the environment. Well, the environment burned up and will burn up if we don't take action.

Chip of SB Aug 04, 2022 12:31 PM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

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.”

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2022/08/03/yosemites-mariposa-grove-reopens-as-washburn-fire-winds-down/

Chip of SB Aug 04, 2022 12:21 PM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

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.

GeneralTree Aug 05, 2022 01:44 AM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

Chip is going to break out the Donald Trump model 45 forest-floor vacuum. All the drivers of this MAGA inspired forest decapitator take mega-doses of hydroxychloroquine to 100% protect themselves from COVID as not to stop this important job. Standard uniform for the job is a white sheet with hood but no mask for debris inhalation - because Americuh.

KarmaSB Aug 04, 2022 12:08 PM
Logging and Chaparral Removal Proposed Across 235,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest

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.

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