The state of California filed suit against the United States Forest Service yesterday over federal plans that would allow road construction and oil drilling in some of the state’s largest national forests, including Los Padres National Forest.

The suit, announced by California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. yesterday, argues that the U.S. Forest Service has adopted an “illegal forest management plan” that would permit road construction on more than 500,000 acres of wilderness in Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino National Forests. The suit alleges that the plan violates California’s moratorium on road construction in “pristine areas” of national forests.

Specifically, California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman alleged that the forest service’s road construction plan violates the federal National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which require the service to adhere to state policies and laws.

Furthermore, Chrisman said the Forest Service told California’s Resources Agency in writing that it would not allow the pervasive road construction.

“Time and again we have tried to hold the forest service to their word on the roadless policy,” Chrisman said. “They have failed to live up to their promises.”

The suit contends that the federal plan also allows for extensive oil and gas exploration and drilling in Los Padres National Forest. Los Padres, located inland throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura County, stretches 220 miles north to south and plays host to conservation efforts aimed at saving the endangered California condor. Currently, the plan would open 52,000 acres in or adjacent to the park to oil drilling – many of which Brown said provide critical habitat areas for the few surviving wild condors.

Jeff Kuyper, executive director of the Los Padres ForestWatch – a Santa Barbara based nonprofit which seeks to preserve the state’s second largest national forest – said the suit could help save the county’s wilderness.

“The revised [United States Forest Service] plan favors development and resource extraction at the expense of our local backcountry,” Kuyper said. “We applaud the State of California for taking a firm stand against this administration’s assault on our public lands.”

Kuyper said the federal government’s plan would create an imbalance in the county’s pristine forest, noting that the plan opened up 94 percent of the National Park’s 595,000 acres of roadless area to road construction.

“The Los Padres National Forest is a haven for our region’s wildlife, providing unique and irreplaceable habitat for the California condor, steelhead and other rare plants and animals,” Kuyper said. “It’s a place deserving of the highest level of protection, and we’re hopeful that today’s action will restore a sense of balance.”
-Staff Report