Lawsuits Filed Against Massive Logging Project The Size Of 575 Football Fields In Los Padres National Forest, Home To The Critically Endangered California Condor

A coalition of environmental, business, and recreational organizations — joined by the county of Ventura and the city of Ojaifiled suit in federal court this week to challenge a commercial logging and vegetation removal project atop Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak in the Los Padres National Forest in California.

The project area — equivalent in size to 575 U.S. football fields — is located on ancestral lands of the Chumash. It is historically and culturally important to Indigenous people, popular with locals and tourists for a range of recreational activities, designated as vital habitat for the critically endangered California condor, and home to other sensitive species, rare plants, old-growth conifer forests, and unique ecosystems.

As this week’s legal actions against the U.S. Forest Service note, more than one-third of the project area is in a protected roadless area that has never been degraded by commercial logging or other industrial activities. The area is proposed for wilderness protection under the bipartisan Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2199), now awaiting final approval in the Senate.

“We’re proud to stand with Indigenous leaders, local businesses, conservation and recreation groups, and city and county governments in demanding a more thoughtful environmental review of this harmful project,” said Los Padres ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper. “Pine Mountain must be protected, not offered up to logging companies using loopholes that make a mockery of our bedrock environmental laws.”

“This commercial logging project will hack a brutal scar through one of Los Padres National Forest’s most beautiful roadless areas,” said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service wants to let chainsaws chew up old-growth conifers and crucial habitat for wildlife. It’s immoral, it’s illegal, and we hope to stop it in court.”

The project would allow unlimited mechanized cutting and removal of live and dead trees of any age up to 2 feet in diameter and an undisclosed number of trees up to 5 feet in diameter, as well as the destruction of chaparral across 755 acres.

The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. They assert violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, Roadless Area Conservation Rule, Endangered Species Act, and National Forest Management Act, and they take aim at the Forest Service’s failure to collaborate with stakeholders.

Such collaboration is required whenever the Forest Service relies on a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act to expedite a project. Originally designed for small maintenance projects like painting buildings, categorical exclusions allow forest officials to bypass standard requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act to consider project alternatives and conduct a detailed study of potential impacts on the area’s unique ecosystems — studies the plaintiffs say are crucial to the protection of important environmental, recreational, and cultural resources.

The plaintiffs claim that the Forest Service violated the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule’s prohibition on the removal of larger trees. The suit also asserts violations of the Endangered Species Act for allowing the removal of an unlimited number of large trees in which endangered California condors roost, providing places to rest during long flights across the landscape. The project would also harm rare California spotted owls, northern goshawks, rare plants, and two species of bats whose populations are declining.

The project was approved over the objections of local elected officials, Indigenous leaders, scientists, more than 30 area businesses, 70 environmental and social justice organizations, and 15,000 members of the public. Those objections amounted to a multitude of comments greater than any single project that Los Padres National Forest has ever received. Despite this unprecedented level of community opposition, the Forest Service failed to make any meaningful changes to the project and approved it in September 2021.

The project is part of a spate of proposals issued during the Trump administration when timber targets were increased, the use of categorical exclusions were encouraged, and the price that timber companies paid for lumber harvested on certain public lands was lowered. Three similar projects have been proposed in the immediate region, including a project along Tecuya Ridge in which a panel of federal appeals court judges recently found the Forest Service in violation of the Roadless Rule. Sadly, another project on Mount Pinos is scheduled for approval this summer.

The organizations filing the lawsuit are Los Padres ForestWatchKeep Sespe Wild Committee, Earth Island Institute, and American Alpine Club, which are collectively represented by the Environmental Defense Center, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, California Chaparral Institute, and Patagonia Works, represented by the Center for Biological Diversity. The county of Ventura and the city of Ojai each filed similar suits simultaneously with the other plaintiff groups. The cases will likely be combined and considered together.

Take action by urging for the protection of the Los Padres National Forest HERE! 

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