California condor | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of three conservation organizations over a commercial logging project proposed for the Tecuya Ridge in the Los Padres National Forest. The ruling, the groups say, protects 1,100 acres of old-growth forest that is actively used by endangered California condors. 

“This ruling is a big victory for the Antimony Roadless Area, which covers about 68 percent of the project area, and an even bigger win for the endangered California condors that have been roosting there for the past several years,” said Bryant Baker, conservation director for Santa Barbara–based Los Padres ForestWatch.  

The project was originally approved by the U.S. Forest Service back in the summer of 2019, with ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the John Muir Project filing a lawsuit against it soon after. The organizations argued that the Forest Service had violated federal law by approving the removal of large-diameter trees along Tecuya Ridge, which is located in the San Emigdio Mountains near the Ventura-Kern County line.

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A U.S. District judge originally sided with the Forest Service, but after nearly three years in court, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with that ruling on the grounds that the project did not comply with the federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The law, adopted in 2001, is meant to protect habitats on national forest land by preventing development in areas that have not yet been touched by road building.

Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The proposed project stirred a great deal of community involvement from the start, with more than 600 public comments submitted during a single 30-day period. A petition was also created that asked the forest supervisor at the time, Kevin Elliott, to withdraw the approval.

The recent victory was especially timely as the Forest Service had already awarded an Oregon-based company the tree-cutting contract, said Baker. In fact, the work was supposed to start in a matter of weeks.

According to ForestWatch, the Ninth Circuit’s decision offers much-needed protection to the condor population that calls Tecuya Ridge home. As they fly between Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, they use the area for overnight roosting, Baker said. Tracking data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows more than 40 instances of roosting on the ridge between 2014 and 2019.

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