VICTORY: Controversial Gaviota Fuel Break Canceled After ForestWatch Lawsuit

View from the ridge where the fuel break would have been constructed.

The Forest Service has canceled plans to construct a massive fuel break in a remote corner of the Los Padres National Forest after ForestWatch and the California Chaparral Institute challenged the project in federal court.

Today, our organizations along with the Forest Service notified the U.S. District Court that the project has been canceled and requested that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The project would have removed native chaparral habitat across a six-mile-long, 300-foot-wide corridor along the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains along the Gaviota Coast, one of the crown jewels of Santa Barbara County. The site was located far away from any structures, and contained some of the most significant stands of Refugio manzanita, one of the rarest and most endangered manzanita species in California.

The Forest Service approved the project last September without preparing an environmental assessment and without proposing any measures to protect manzanitas and other rare plants and animals in the area.

By filing the lawsuit last November, we hoped to protect the Refugio manzanita and other rare plants and animals in the path of the fuel break. The suit was also aimed at encouraging forest officials to focus their limited resources on reducing fire risk directly in and around communities.

The vast majority of fire ecologists agree that the best way to protect communities from wildfire is to create defensible space immediately around homes, and to retrofit structures with ignition-resistant building materials like fire-rated roofs, dual-paned glass, and screening. Clearing vegetation in remote areas, far away from structures, is a costly and often ineffective way to stop wildfires and protect homes.

We appreciate the Forest Service’s decision to reconsider this flawed project, and we will continue to assist forest officials in identifying and implementing proven, cost-effective ways to directly protect homes from wildfire.

Our organizations were represented by Earthrise Law Center, the environmental law clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, OR – one of the top environmental law programs in the country.

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