Widespread Opposition to Clearing & Logging Project Prompts Extension of Comment Period

By the Los Padres ForestWatch

[Last week], the U.S. Forest Service extended the public comment period for a plan to log large trees and clear native chaparral habitat across 235,000 acres (368 square miles) of Los Padres National Forest. The extension was prompted by widespread opposition and requests from Congress and the public. 

In announcing the 30-day time extension, forest officials rejected calls for a much longer extension and refused multiple requests to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the highest level of environmental review required under federal law.  

The so-called “Ecological Restoration Project” announced last month includes 48,000 acres of logging, grinding, and other vegetation removal across several “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. 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 Pine Mountain, and from Figueroa Mountain to Big Sur without any further site-specific environmental analysis or public notice (interactive map). 

A short 30-day comment period was announced in late July and was scheduled to expire on August 28. Congressman Salud Carbajal submitted a formal request to the Forest Service requesting an extension of the comment period for an additional 90 days to accommodate input by the public and independent experts. The letter also requested preparation of an EIS. 

“With such diversity and immense terrain, an Environmental Impact Statement will provide a more complete analysis and give more opportunities for public comment,” states the request from Congressman Carbajal dated August 11. “It will also provide for a deeper examination related to rare and endemic flora within inventoried roadless areas and potential wilderness areas.” 

Many areas targeted for clearing are currently being reviewed by Congress for protection as wilderness under the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced by Rep. Carbajal and co-sponsored by other local representatives including Rep. Brownley and Rep. Panetta. The bill 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. 

On Wednesday, a letter signed by 71 environmental organizations, museums, and community groups lodged a similar request, and outlined a series of concerns with the project. In addition, in the three weeks since the project was first announced, more than 1,100 people have submitted comments opposing the project. 

“If a project that involves heavy equipment use and intensive native vegetation removal across 235,000 acres—including 56,000 acres of designated critical habitat for federally threatened or endangered species—does not rise to the need for an EIS, then what does?” states the letter from the groups, which also requests a 90-day extension of the comment period and a commitment to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Groups signing the letter include Los Padres ForestWatch, The Wilderness Society, Chalon Indian Council of Bakersfield, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Wildling Museum, Green Latinos, Environmental Defense Center, Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO), Hispanic Access Foundation, California Native Plant Society, Patagonia, Center for Biological Diversity, Latino Outdoors, Ojai Raptor Center, Keep Sespe Wild, North County Watch, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Pacific Crest Trail Association, Runners for Public Lands, Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN), and several local chapters of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society.  

Forest officials plan to prepare a less-detailed report called an Environmental Assessment for the project. This “brief” document is not nearly as robust as an EIS, which is typically prepared for projects of this size and scope. 

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. 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 could 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. 

Officials are accepting public comments on the proposal until September 27. Visit LPFW.org/ERP to easily submit a comment online. 

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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  1. – Clearly, our 50 decades of environmentalists hand in forest management has been a failure. Not allowing control burns and natural lightening burns have made our forests overgrown with more trees and undergrowth per acre than, in some areas, 150 yrs ago (namely the Tahoe Basin ). Wildland fires are becoming conflagrations that scorch mineral earth hot enough to sterilize the soil rather than provide nutrients to medium and old growth trees. We need aggressive forest fuel management, especially near interface areas.

  2. How much is this about creating access to the Oil and Fracking leases, see maps, view overlap …might this be the rush in not wanting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?
    Proposed logging Map
    Drilling and leasing licenses

  3. This is crazy! I just can’t believe that so called environmentalist organizations are fighting to make sure this land is all burned down to a moonscape. If they truly cared about saving the habitat for endangered species, why on earth would they advocate for policies that guarantee its destruction? I hope this project can be completed before it’s too late and the next wildfire destroys everything. Time is of the essence here!

    • CHIP – thank you for actually providing a mature and informative response. Sad that your little buddy is incapable of reasonable discourse.
      So, if I understand correctly, by putting out forest fires, we’ve altered the forest by allowing fuel to build up. Or, was it the roads and railroads that altered the forests, or both infrastructure and smoke jumpers? If so, what is the remedy? Do we stop fighting forest fires? Remove infrastructure from the forests?

    • Sac, I think we have a real challenge given the condition of so much of our forest land after decades of fire suppression. I think suppression efforts are primarily to blame for this, but it’s definitely a combination of that and man-made alterations to the landscape blocking the path of fire. Going back to a “let it burn” philosophy would be extremely destructive in many forests since ladder fuels and dead vegetation have accumulated to such a great extent that mature trees would be destroyed. The transition back to fire must be accomplished carefully. In the mariposa grove of giant sequoias, this problem was addressed by going in and thinning out the vegetation around the ancient sequoia trees. As a result of this work, none of the ancient sequoias in the grove were harmed in the recent fire that passed through. I think mechanical thinning and clearing, and in some cases logging, are great ways to thin out the forest and restore it to a more natural state. Controlled burns are also extremely helpful and have been used with great results to help protect the giant sequoias and in many other areas. I believe a combination of mechanical clearing and controlled burns can be used to transition the forests back to a more natural condition and to maintain the forest in as close to a natural condition as possible. This approach will also dramatically reduce the intensity of wildfires and the danger to surrounding communities.

    • You’ve been down this road before Sacjon but as a refresher: our CA forests are not untouched and haven’t been for a century. You need to first acknowledge that our forests aren’t as nature intended. Fire is a natural part of our forests ecosystem and health. Some trees have even evolved to require fires in order to properly propagate. Our fire suppression practices have led to the very unnatural build up of brush, debris, and overgrowth, which would have been naturally cleared by regular – low intensity/localized fires prior to human intervention. This unnatural build up from constant fire suppression leads to high-intensity fires that not only burn the built up fuel but all the old growth and mature plants/trees along with it but the animal life as well that is simply unable to shelter or outrun the high-intensity fires.

    • VOICE – yeah, yeah you guys keep saying that, but HOW are our forests “touched?” What are the specific “fire suppression” actions that have allowed the forests to overgrow?
      If we don’t allow logging or other clearing, then how have the forests been “touched?” Have environmentalists been altering the forests in some way?

    • Sac, prior to about 100 years ago give or take the forest burned frequently. Lightning started fires, and those fires spread freely, often smoldering for months on end. Without roads, train tracks, neighborhoods, and other man made obstacles a fire could spread over tremendous distances and they frequently did. Because the fires occurred often, dead vegetation could not accumulate and little damage was done to large trees. Many species, such as giant sequoias and Monterey cypress adapted to fire and actually depend on it. Seeds from the giant sequoia tree require fire to begin growing. Contemplate that for a moment, fires occurs so frequently for so long that a tree developed an adaptation to only start growing its seeds after a fire cleared out competing vegetation. The native Americans recognized the benefits of fire in the forest and for millennia carried on a tradition of initiating fires. That is illegal today, the us government prohibits Native American tribes from carrying on these ancient traditions with limited exceptions. So what changed, and how did the white man dramatically alter the forest? The idea that fire was bad took hold late in the 19th century. By the early 20th century manpower and technology was used to suppress every fire regardless of the cause. Some say the timber industry was responsible for promoting this misguided policy in an attempt to maximize profits by reducing the amount of timber lost to fire. Regardless of the motivation, the policy was clear. If lightning sparked a fire deep in an inaccessible area, aircraft would fly in “smokejumpers” to quickly suppress it. This was easy at first since it had not been too long since previous fires cleared out the forest. However, as the decades went on the forests changed and drifted further and further from their natural state. The patchwork of trees and meadows that animals had adapted to gage way to an increasingly dense forest, and ladder fuels grew tall and started to threaten large trees, and disease spread more and more rapidly killing more trees and exacerbating the problems. That’s where it stands today. We have reached the limits of man’s ability to continue enforcing fire suppression. Like it or not, nature will prevail and the forests will burn. The question now is what is the best way to transition back to the natural cycle of fire. The answer is to carry out projects like this one as well as dramatically as creasing the amount of planned burns. The native Americans figured this out thousands of years ago, now it’s time the us government catches up.

    • Sac, this is a dead end argument with Chip and his cronies. They would rather pave over it and open it up to logging, fracking, and development. No matter what logic you present. Facts, data, it will not deter them from further destruction to our natural lands. Brainwashed at best. For centuries we didn’t mess with it and it took care of itself just fine. Introduce factories and humans. Look where we are now….

    • Zero, if your approach to forest management had prevailed in our national parks, the ancient giant sequoia trees in mariposa grove would have all been destroyed by wildfire. The only reason they stand today is because after decades of fire suppression, mechanical thinning and clearing was carried out along with controlled burns to restore the grove to a more resilient natural condition. If we simply leave the forest alone now and let it all burn, there will be nothing left. You can’t stop fire suppression cold turkey after 100 years. The forest needs a transition back to its natural cycle of fire.

  4. If the Los Padres Forest Watch could combine the fracking and oil leasing layer with the proposed logging map into one interactive map ,we’d get a better picture how the forest clearing relates to road access in and out to fracking and oil leases . This might be why they don’t want an EIS, it would show the Enviromental Impact to the habitat from the fracking and oil leases….
    Los Padres Forest Watch can you please update with a new interactive map which includes both maps below, thank you!
    Proposed logging Map
    Drilling and leasing licenses map

    • Thinning and selectively logging this large area will not remove all the trees and vegetation and will not increase the risk of a mudslide. Doing nothing and allowing a wildfire to burn this area down to nothing will drastically increase the risk of a mudslide. The risk of flash flooding, mud, and debris flows is yet another reason why completing this type of project is so important.

  5. More left wing propaganda spread by the very predictable cast of liars. Even going as far as interjecting race (Green Latinos?) into their tangled web? Has anyone ever calculated the amount in metric tons of carbon which is spread into the atmosphere from unplanned, uncontrolled fires? How were forests managed as little as 150 years ago? Exactly!
    As for Carbajal, try focusing on doing your job, worrying less about endangered bugs and more about lowering energy costs for working constituents by fracking on federal lands!
    That’s right, get off your ass and get to work improving the lives of people you claim to care about instead of greasing your palms by these environmental, green shakedown artists!
    Wait, hold on…I thought the Department of Interior was controlled by the Biden administration?

  6. I wondered how long before one of you referred to that huckster Chad Hanson – the most hated person by any grunt that works for CalFire or the Forest Service. He and his attorney wife seem to live to file very profitable lawsuit after lawsuit to block any and all attempts to mitigate wildfire in this state.
    Under the guise of saving animals or saving diversity, this clown blocks any and all attempts to clear, thin, rake, lift, cut or manage any part of any forest. His merry band of pranksters fought the Bass Lake Ranger district for years to block thinning projects supposedly to save the Pacific Fisher.
    Meanwhile, the forest along the Minarets Byway became choked with trash trees and saplings, over grown, a bomb waiting to go off. Then two bombs exploded – the French Fire followed four years later by the Creek Fire. Two of the biggest fires in state history turned hundreds of thousand of acres into toohpicks. Nothing taller than grasses now grow in that area. Maybe one tree per acre survived, and that’s being generous.
    As for the Pacific Fisher, and the deer and the black bear and the hundreds of other species that lived in that area – they are gone. I can drive 40 miles of the byway to get to my cabin and only see lowland birds that have moved into the area that more resembles the foothills of Fresno than it does the forests of the Sierra. So much for saving wildlife. The huggers still stuck in the mindset of the 1970’s have turned the forests into savannas.

  7. This is like hording. For years the garage fills up with stuff. People think it’s okay because there’s no problem. Then it becomes a fire hazard and harbors rats. Then a “solver” comes by and just wants to throw it all away. But Johnny wants his baseball cards buried in the back. Salud then hires a team of consultants who assign a team of “diverse and inclusive” pickers to map out and plan an entry path to retrieve the cards. In come the hazmat suit team to prepare an agenda of what may or may not work. Johnny realizes before the entire thing is tossed out, he may just have to sneak in after midnight to get his gosh darn cards. Salud comes in for a photo op and ribbon cutting next to the mailbox.

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