Just last week the Forest Service officially suspended its plan to lease 52,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest to new oil drilling and fracking operations. This decision was a direct response to ForestWatch’s notice of intent to file a lawsuit along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife that we sent to various federal agencies in October. The suspension of the plan is indefinite.
The decision comes after a decade-long legal battle over oil leasing in the Los Padres National Forest, a plan that led to the formation of ForestWatch back in 2004. In July 2005, the Forest Service issued its final decision to allow new drilling across 52,075 acres of pristine forest lands. The drilling areas were next to some of the most sensitive areas of the forest, including the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, and four wilderness areas. ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Defenders of Wildlife immediately filed an appeal of the decision, charging that the plan threatened endangered wildlife such as the California condor, did not adequately review the environmental impacts of drilling, and was overwhelmingly opposed by the public.
ForestWatch then filed a lawsuit in 2007 following a massive oil spill that contaminated several miles of a creek next to the Sespe Wilderness. The Forest Service temporarily halted the drilling plan to allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to evaluate the impacts of the drilling on endangered species like the California condor. The Service released its biological opinion this August, allowing the drilling to move forward despite impacts to condors and other protected plants and animals. In response, ForestWatch and our conservation partners filed a notice of intent to sue in October, along with a letter to the Forest Service requesting the agency to update the 11-year-old drilling plan with new information, specifically a thorough analysis of the environmental and health risks of fracking. The 2005 drilling plan was virtually silent on fracking, the impacts of which were not well known at the time.
Last week’s decision by the Forest Service to indefinitely halt the plan was accompanied by a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw its biological opinion released in August. In the coming years, the Forest Service will need to revise its drilling plan, release it for public review and comment, and seek a new biological opinion from the Fish & Wildlife Service. While this battle may not be entirely over, we welcome the Forest Service’s long-awaited decision, which will protect endangered plants and animals and the incredible landscapes of the Los Padres National Forest.
Check out our map to learn more about the state of oil drilling in and around the Los Padres National Forest: