A management plan adopted in 2005 by the National Forest Service for four Southern California forests-including the two-million-acre Los Padres Forest, which backs up to Santa Barbara, Ventura, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties-is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. That was the ruling that came down from U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel late Tuesday afternoon, September 29.
The State of California and a coalition of environmental groups represented by the law firm Earthjustice filed suit against the Forest Service in 2008, after exhausting civil appeals processes. The plan, said Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin, failed to adequately address the environmental impacts of activities currently taking place in the forest including energy development, wildfire management, and offroad vehicle use. “Hopefully the effect will be a better plan that does more to protect species and habitat,” she said.
The case’s plaintiffs, which included the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the California Native Plant Society, the California Wilderness Coalition, The Wilderness Society, and Santa Barbara-based Los Padres ForestWatch, also argued that the Forest Service had failed to provide alternatives in its plan, a claim upheld by Judge Patel.
Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch executive director, said that it will take at least another 30 days to determine the impacts of the decision. “Really, the big question is, what projects can be approved in the Forest without the plan [in place],” he said. There are currently about 600,000 acres of undeveloped roadless lands in the Forest, he said, and the management plan in effect opened up 443,000 of those acres to road building and other types of development. He wasn’t aware of any impending development projects, but because the plan recommended that only 35,821 acres in the Santa Barbara and Ventura county portions of the Los Padres National Forest be set aside as wilderness areas, the lawsuit’s backers were concerned about potential road expansion and resource development in the remainder.
Officials from the Los Padres National Forest could not be reached for comment.