Pressured in federal court by two Southern California environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service’s Los Padres National Forest has shelved its plan to cut a wildfire fuel break between Gaviota and Refugio. The agency aimed to considerably widen — up to 300 feet wide, terrain permitting — an existing six-mile stretch of dirt roadway along the mountain ridge. But the plan failed to protect rare plants and animals from the vegetation clearance, according to the lawsuit, filed late last year by California Chaparral Institute and Santa Barbara’s Los Padres ForestWatch. The groups dropped the lawsuit when Los Padres officials reconsidered.
Refugio manzanita stood out as a key player in the complaint, as it only grows in a narrow band between Point Conception and Santa Ynez Peak. The evergreen shrub is considered a sensitive species of the Los Padres, affording it a level of care not addressed in the plan. ForestWatch had also urged Los Padres officials to forego spending money and manpower on a remote, low-priority fire break when studies show that wildfire resources are better spent creating and maintaining defensible space immediately surrounding homes, said Jeff Kuyper, the group’s executive director.
In that respect, according to Los Padres spokesperson Andrew Madsen, the agency is moving forward with fuel breaks near Painted Cave, Trout Club, Rosario Park, and the Haney Tract, as part of the Santa Barbara Mountain Communities Defense Zone Project, “to focus on those communities most at risk.”