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More Wilderness for Southern California? Lawsuit Leads to Several Public Meetings

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PCHtrip by gamne | image via Creative Commons
PCHtrip by gamne | image via Creative Commons

Southern California's four National Forests -- Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernadino -- are under scrutiny. And your comments can help determine their future.

Various environmental groups recently sued the U.S. Forest Service (California Resources Agency, et al vs. United States Department of Agriculture, and Center for Biological Diversity, et al vs. United States Department of Agriculture) in the hopes of achieving a goal: more potential wilderness area. This involves no roads or mechanized vehicles, which in turn means greater endangered species protection.

"Clearly there is a nexus between areas that don't have roads in them and non-threatening habitats for endangered species," said Ileene Anderson, Biologist and Public Lands Deserts Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. The endangered Arroyo Toad is the classic example, she explained.

"We've lost 98% of wetlands in Southern California already. The toads are existing in the 2% that's left," she said. Anderson thinks they deserve a little protection. The toad lives within two miles of stream channels. When streams are crisscrossed by roads, "it's problematic for the animals," she said. And by problematic, she means the toads get squished by passing cars and incursions off-road, particularly during the amphibian's brief breeding season.

The Center for Biological Diversity has a history of suing the Forest Service, which dates back to the 1990s.

"We challenged the Forest Service in the early 2000s," said Anderson, which also resulted in an unsatisfactory plan. Anderson said the Forest Service was still "overly ambitious" with the areas they took off the table as potential wilderness locations. The Center detailed a critique of the 2006 plan.

On January 2, 2011, a settlement was reached for the Proposed Amendment to the Land Management Plan. The Forest Service agreed to update and put out supplemental environmental statements about the two main issues: endangered species and Inventories Roadless Areas (IRAs), which are areas in the forest with minimal roads or trails, and therefore indicate potential wilderness areas.

"We're working with the Center along with others over a land management plan," said Andrew Madsen of Los Padres National Forest. "The judge told us to work on two specific areas. So we spent the last 18 months or so working on it. We've come up with a proposed action." They alerted the public, informed stakeholders, and sent out letters and maps to help people learn about the four forests. "After we receive comments, we'll move forward with the action plan."

Los Padres is already a major forest in Southern California. It boasts 1.7 million acres, 900,000 of which that make up 10 congressionally recognized wilderness areas.

"There does come a point where you look and say, wow, we already have 900,000 acres of wilderness, if we're really looking at more, what are the effects of our management approach?" he said. "This does take away some of the recreational areas that are out there. Families can't drive to campgrounds and fires are treated differently in wilderness areas, creating a whole spate of challenges" he said.

Madsen explained that National Forests were set up for multiple uses. Resources like timber can be logged, and oil can be licensed; motorized vehicles are used to access camping and hunting opportunities. "If you're gonna keep turning more and more into wilderness you get to resembling a National Park," he said.

He also cautioned against getting overly optimistic about the power these proposals hold.

"Only Congress can designate a wilderness area," he reminded. "We can propose all we want, but Congress can say, 'yeah, that's nice, do something else.'" He mentioned a competing idea from U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act. "He went to a map and drew a plan," Madsen explained, filling in boundaries he thought should be contiguous.

The Forest Service recently released a Notice of Intent and Scoping Letter as a part of their legal obligations. The issue is now open for public comment.

"We're really at the beginning of the process. We're watching with great interest and are definitely going to be engaging in helping the Forest Service make good decisions as part of the public," said Anderson.

Public Meetings
(Information provided by the U.S. Forest Service)

The four national forests will be hosting multiple open houses during the 45-day scoping period that began April 27. The content and format of each meeting will be identical; however each forest will be presenting information specific to what the Proposed Amendment means locally. Forest Service staff officers will be available to answer questions, and maps of the proposed changes will be available for viewing. The meeting times and locations are:

  • May 29, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, E.P. Foster Library, 651 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001 (Los Padres National Forest)
  • May 30, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Angeles National Forest Headquarters, 701 North Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia, CA 91006 (Angeles National Forest)
  • May 31, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Santa Maria Red Cross, 3030 Skyway Drive, Santa Maria, CA 93455 (Los Padres National Forest)
  • May 31, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Santa Clara Mojave Rivers Ranger District Office, 33708 Crown Valley Road, Acton, CA 93510 (Angeles National Forest)
  • May 31, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, San Bernardino National Forest Headquarters, 602 S. Tippecanoe Ave., San Bernardino, CA 92408 (San Bernardino National Forest)
  • May 31, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Palomar Ranger District Office, 1634 Black Canyon Road, Ramona, CA 92065 (Cleveland National Forest)
  • June 1, 1:00 PM to 4 PM, Frazier Park Library, 3732 Park Drive, Frazier Park, CA 93225 (Los Padres National Forest)
  • June 5, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Descanso Ranger District office, 3348 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, CA 91901 (Cleveland National Forest)
  • June 5, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Trabuco Ranger District office, 1147 E. 6th Street, Corona, CA 92879 (Cleveland National Forest)

How to Comment

The public is encouraged to participate in the process. Comments should be received within 45 days of the publication of the Notice of Intent in the Federal Register. The Notice was published on Friday, April 27, 2012, and the comment period closes on Monday June 11, 2012.

Send written comments to:

Cleveland National Forest
10845 Rancho Bernardo Road
Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92127-2107
ATTN: LMP Amendment

Comments may be sent via e-mail to socal_nf_lmp_amendment@fs.fed.us, or filed through the project web page.

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