Source: Los Padres ForestWatch
The Ventura City Council voted 6-0 last [week] to formally oppose two commercial logging projects on Pine Mountain and Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest. The vote comes on the heels of similar votes by the Ojai City Council and Ventura County Board of Supervisors and just days after a federal appeals court struck down a third logging project.
“Logging and chaparral removal are expected to degrade these forests and outdoor recreation for decades, harm wildlife and cultural resources, increase flammability and vulnerability to wildfire, and contribute to climate change,” wrote City of Ventura Mayor Sofia Rubalcava and City Councilmember Doug Halter in their request to the City Council to take a formal position.
The City Council’s action adds to massive public opposition to the Forest Service’s plans to cut trees and clear chaparral across 755 acres on Pine Mountain and over 1,600 acres atop Mt. Pinos. Nearly 20,000 residents from throughout the region have spoken out against one or both of the projects. The City of Ventura joins hundreds of organizations, businesses, tribal leaders, scientists, members of Congress, and local governments that have made their opposition known to the Forest Service.
“We applaud the City of Ventura for its resounding opposition to these contentious and damaging logging projects,” said Los Padres ForestWatch conservation director Bryant Baker. “They join a growing chorus of local governments throughout the region that are calling for better protections for our forests, our wildlife, our communities, and our climate.”
In similar votes, a 4-1 majority of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voiced their opposition to the logging projects in October 2021. The City of Ojai followed suit shortly thereafter with a 5-0 vote in formal opposition to the logging projects.
“We appreciate the City Council’s vote last night,” said J.J. Huggins, spokesman for Patagonia. “That fact that the Ventura City Council, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and the Ojai City Council are all officially opposing these logging projects sends a strong signal from our community to the Forest Service. Pine Mountain and Mount Pinos are natural playgrounds that provide amazing recreational opportunities to the public, and we need to protect them.”
The Pine Mountain project approval was issued in September of last year using a loophole that allows the Forest Service to bypass normal requirements to prepare an environmental assessment. Instead, officials only prepared a series of “specialist reports” that were not made available to the public until the decision was made and did not evaluate any alternatives or mitigation measures that would reduce or avoid damage caused by the project. The loophole also allows the agency to move forward without offering any formal public objection or appeal opportunity to address concerns. The proposal on Mt. Pinos along the Ventura-Kern County line is expected to be approved using similar methods.
Both projects would allow the use of heavy equipment to log live and dead trees up to two feet in diameter and clear chaparral. Trees larger than two feet in diameter may also be removed under vague stipulations. A commercial timber sale would be allowed as part of the logging activities according to the Forest Service.
Only an hour and a half drive from Ventura, Pine Mountain is a popular destination for campers, hikers, climbers, and other recreationists. The ridge is also home to some of the most diverse and unique habitats in the region. The forests and chaparral on Pine Mountain support more than 400 species of native plants as well as mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, mule deer, and numerous birds and small mammals. A recent study commissioned by Los Padres ForestWatch found multiple California spotted owls—one of the rarest owl species in California—near the project area.
Mt. Pinos is the tallest peak in the Los Padres National Forest, and it is of major spiritual and cultural importance to local Indigenous peoples. Residents from across Ventura County flock to Mt. Pinos each winter to experience yearly snow and high elevation activities that cannot be found elsewhere nearby.
Patagonia and other business owners in the city attended last night’s hearing, urging the councilmembers to vote to oppose the logging projects in the Los Padres National Forest.
“Thank you to the Ventura City Council and Mayor Rubalcava for taking the next steps to ensure protection for this important natural environment that is so close to home,” said Michelle Stevens, Founder of The Refill Shoppe in Ventura who spoke at the hearing. “Generations of Ventura County humans, animals, bugs and ecosystem will be forever grateful.”
“Thanks to Mayor Rubalcava and Ventura City Council for helping to ensure that the critical natural environment surrounding Pine Mountain is preserved for outdoor enthusiasts both young and old,” said Topa Topa Brewing Company founder Jack Dyer. “This important ecosystem in our backyard is a treasure worth preserving.”
The Forest Service has stated that both projects are intended for wildfire risk reduction despite numerous scientific studies that have shown remote vegetation removal projects to be ineffective in mitigating wildfires that cause the majority of fire-related damage to communities each year. Scientists and conservation organizations have long advocated that funding should instead 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.
Over one-third of the Pine Mountain project area is within two proposed additions to the Sespe Wilderness as part of the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last year. The legislation would designate an area along part of the western portion of the ridge and an area that includes Reyes Peak.
The Pine Mountain decision is the third logging project to be approved in the Los Padres National Forest since 2018. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling vacating the Forest Service’s approval of commercial logging across nearly 70% of one of these project areas near the Ventura-Kern county line.