Members of the Santa Barbara Search and Rescue Team in one of their off-road ATVs.
Paul Wellman

As one of the national forests with the least amount of roads, there’s always grumbling when roadless areas are brought up in the Los Padres. Wilderness advocates and species-minded conservationists want to lop on more protections while off-roaders and others seeking easier access want more ways to drive in deeper. Those concerns come to a head this next week during a series of public meetings being held to describe the Los Padres’ land management plan update, the every 15-year process that was originally completed in 2006 before lawsuits forced the ongoing re-do.

“The proposed action is to move everything up one level [of protection], except where we had a collection of roads where it was not suitable to do that,” explained Los Padres planner Jim Turner, who is suggesting that an additional 300,000 acres be named “backcountry nonmotorized.” There’s no additional wilderness proposed because that makes it more difficult to fight fires and work on trails, said Turner, who also believes that wilderness presents “social inequities” by “isolating the forest from a lot of potential users.” (There is a Los Padres wilderness bill simultaneously sitting before Congress that, if ever passed, would supersede this update.)

Off-roaders will be least stoked on the changes, as it blocks the potential of new routes. But that probably would have never happened anyway. “We haven’t built a road since the 1950s,” said Turner, “and there are no plans to build any roads.” Added Los Padres spokesperson Andrew Madsen, “And no money to build them anyway.”

Learn more at the meetings: May 29, 4-7 p.m., E.P Foster Library, in Ventura; May 31, 4-7 p.m., Santa Maria Red Cross; or June 1, 1-4 p.m., Frazier Park Library. Or send comments directly by June 11 to Cleveland National Forest; 10845 Rancho Bernardo Road; Suite 200; San Diego, CA 92127-2107; ATTN: LMP Amendment.


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