ForestWatch and other conservation groups praised a recent decision by the U.S. Forest Service to consider stronger protections for wildlife and wildlands across 221,579 acres throughout the Los Padres National Forest in the remote backcountry of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern counties.
The decision directs forest officials with the Los Padres National Forest to reevaluate the wilderness characteristics of seven areas and clarify how biologists will monitor and protect imperiled wildlife.
The Forest Service decision comes in response to formal objections that eight conservation groups filed earlier this year over an amendment to the land management plan for the Los Padres National Forest. The groups were concerned that the Forest Service failed to protect threatened and endangered wildlife in the roadless areas and failed to establish a program to regularly and effectively monitor long-term environmental trends throughout the Los Padres National Forest as required by law.
In 2013 the Forest Service embarked on a comprehensive evaluation of 16 “inventoried roadless areas” — intact areas important for wildlife because they have not been fragmented by roads — in the Los Padres National Forest. In January 2014 forest officials declined to include “recommended wilderness” designations for the roadless areas. A wilderness recommendation would provide the highest level of protection for these lands until Congress acts to formally protect them as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
After the Forest Service declined to include recommended wilderness in the inventoried roadless areas, eight conservation organizations filed a formal objection to this evaluation in March 2014, asking Regional Forester Randy Moore, the top Forest Service official in California, to reconsider it. The objecting groups — Los Padres ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, California Native Plant Society, California Chaparral Institute, California Wilderness Coalition, Keep the Sespe Wild Coalition and The Wilderness Society — argued that the roadless areas merited a recommended wilderness zoning designation because of their habitat values, remoteness, natural beauty and undeveloped status.
The regional forester’s decision focuses on one roadless area in particular, Antimony, as possessing particularly strong wilderness values. This 48,060-acre area shares a boundary with the Wind Wolves Preserve — the largest private nature reserve on the West Coast — and is also adjacent to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge where endangered California condors are reintroduced into the wild. Several “highly significant” American Indian cultural sites (some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places) are also found here, along with the San Emigdio Mountains Globally Important Bird Area and unique geology formed by the convergence of three faults.
“The Antimony area represents a valuable puzzle piece to a growing network of conservation lands stretching from the San Emigdio Mountains, to the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and to the Tehachapi Mountains and southern Sierra Nevada and beyond,” said Dan York, associate director of The Wildlands Conservancy, the nonprofit land trust that owns and manages the Wind Wolves Preserve and that provided testimony during an objection resolution hearing earlier this summer. “The Forest Service should seize this opportunity to recommend this area for wilderness protection, joining the chorus of federal, state, and private organizations that have been working collaboratively for the past two decades to establish a connected landscape of conservation lands in the region. This would be a legacy project for future Californians.”
The roadless areas that will be reevaluated in response to the Regional Forester’s instructions include:
- Diablo (19,597 acres, near the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County)
- Juncal (12,289 acres, near the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County)
- Fox Mountain (52,069 acres, near New Cuyama in Santa Barbara County)
- Cuyama (19,570 acres, near New Cuyama in Santa Barbara County)
- White Ledge (18,632 acres, near Ojai in Ventura County)
- Sawmill-Badlands (51,362 acres, near Frazier Park in Ventura and Kern counties)
- Antimony (48,060 acres, near Frazier Park in Kern County)
You can learn about these roadless areas and more from our past article here.
Consistent with the regional forester’s decision, forest officials at the Los Padres National Forest will reevaluate these roadless areas for their wilderness characteristics and issue a final classification for these lands in the coming weeks or months. ForestWatch is thrilled at this renewed opportunity to fully protect open space, clean water, wildlife, and outstanding recreation opportunities. We look forward to working with the Forest Service to ensure that these lands are permanently protected for current and future generations to enjoy.