Los Padres Forest to Revise Land Management Plan

Court Settlement Requires Forest Service to Reexamine How It Oversees Wilderness

Los Padres National Forest officials will host an open house Wednesday night, April 10, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Southern California Edison building at 103 David Love Place in Goleta. The purpose of the meeting will be to share information and answer questions on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for a proposed amendment to its Land Management Plan that was adopted in 2006. The open house will include a brief presentation and Forest Service staff will be available to answer questions. Additional information about the proposed amendment along with maps and the full SEIS can be found on the project web page.

The decision to adopt the Los Padres Forest Management Plan, as well as those for other Southern California forests, was challenged in federal court in cases filed by the State of California and several environmental organizations. In late September 2009, a federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and as a result the Forest Service entered into a settlement requiring it to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that would reexamine its management policies for almost one million acres of roadless area within the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests. The potential result is the re-classification of much of that land as either Recommended Wilderness (RW), or Backcountry Non-Motorized areas (BCNM).

While being hailed as an important step by the Wilderness Society, the California Wilderness Coalition, and the Sierra Club to preserve parts of the forests not currently designated as wilderness and to restore habitat for endangered or threatened species, not all groups are supportive of the proposals. Mountain bike advocates such as the CA Off-Road Bicycle Association (CORBA) and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) are concerned that increased non-motorized or wilderness designations will close existing trails to bicyclists and make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain trails within those areas in the future.

Ironically, Forest Watch (FW), the local watchdog for Los Padres National Forest, has its own concerns about the proposals. In a recent article in the Sierra Club’s quarterly newspaper, the Condor Call, Forest Watch lamented the fact that the proposals “failed to recommend a single acre for formal designation as ‘wilderness,’ the highest level of protection afforded to federal public lands.”

The proposed amendment to the Los Padres Forest’s Land Management Plan will have serious implications for all who value recreational opportunities in the forest. While the lands designated as BCNM will not be considered wilderness, in practice the non-motorized areas will be managed as such.

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