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The following article was posted on January 28th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 47 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 47

Draft decision says no new wilderness for Los Padres

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


WILD KINGDOM
Swaths of Los Padres National Forest could take a step up the ladder of protection, if the Forest Service’s recently released draft decisions on a Southern California land management plan are finalized sometime later this year.
FILE PHOTO

Proponents for establishing more wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest didn’t get their wish with the recently released draft decisions that outline a management plan for roadless areas in four Southern California national forests. Each forest issued its own draft decision.

 “Residents and forest users from throughout the Central Coast have spoken loud and clear about wanting more of our local forest protected as wilderness,” Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, said in a press release. “Unfortunately, this no-new-wilderness policy keeps some of our region’s most remote, undeveloped lands open for oil drilling, mining, and other types of development.”

Bob Hawkins with the National Forest Service said while Los Padres isn’t receiving any more designated wilderness acreage, that doesn’t open up the forest floor to rampant development.

“For the areas we studied, there will be no surface drilling,” Hawkins said, adding that the areas are under two levels of protection. One is a federal law that covers roadless areas in national forests, and the second is the stepped-up level of protection that would be offered with the new land-use designations lined out in the draft decision. Those designations put the land up a protection notch, to just below designated wilderness.

The decision is a result of work that’s been going on since 2009 to rewrite portions of the original land management plan for Los Padres, San Bernardino, Angeles, and Cleveland national forests. After it was approved in 2006, the plan was appealed in a lawsuit and took a jaunt through the federal court system, ending with a 2009 settlement agreement.

Groups involved in the lawsuit alleged the original management plan didn’t account for all of the environmental impacts of certain land-use designations in roadless areas of the forests. The settlement agreement sent the Forest Service back to the zoning table for an amendment to the plan.

What ForestWatch wants to see enacted is an alternative in the draft environmental impact statement that designates a little over 330,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest to become recommended wilderness. The Forest Service’s draft decision chooses the alternative that allocates about 293,000 acres of Los Padres forest as backcountry non-motorized area, and no new acreage would be designated wilderness.

As recommended wilderness, the land has the highest degree of protection the Forest Service can offer—both ForestWatch and the Forest Service agree on that. What they don’t agree on is whether Los Padres needs more of it with the new management plan.

“Wilderness protection is the best way to ensure that we can continue to enjoy clean mountain streams, wildlife habitat, and the great outdoors without threat of development,” Kuyper said in the press release. “We will continue to work with the Forest Service and other stakeholders to reverse this no-new-wilderness policy so that our local forest lands receive the protection they deserve.”

Los Padres has 10 wilderness areas that encompass almost half of the forest’s acreage, which runs from north of Big Sur to south of Santa Barbara. Current land-use zoning allocates 5,300 more acres as designated wilderness, which won’t change, should the draft decision become final.

The percentage of current wilderness in Los Padres contrasts with that of the other three national forests outlined in the plan—those forests are only 18 to 24 percent wilderness. Between the three of them, more than 100,000 acres of recommended wilderness is allocated in the draft decisions made on the management plan.

The Forest Service has to ensure that land can be used for multiple purposes—resource development, recreation, protected habitat, and more.

Where Los Padres acreage lands in the draft decision is with a designation that allows for use, not a lot of development on the land’s surface, as well as an option for becoming future designated wilderness.

“It ties back to the Forest Service’s mission,” Hawkins said. “To strike a balance.”

The public has 60 days after the date a draft decision is published—in this case, draft decisions were published on Jan. 17—to object to the decision. Objections can be submitted to objections-pacificsouthwest-regional-office@fs.fed.us with SoCal LMP in the subject line and the forest name specified. For more information about the objection process, visit fs.fed.us/objections/objections_related.php.