Controversial Gaviota Fuel Break Canceled After Lawsuit

The following was posted on the Facebook page of the California Chaparral Institute. – mk

The Forest Service has canceled plans to construct a massive fuel break in a remote corner of the Los Padres National Forest after the California Chaparral Institute and our partners, Los Padres Forest Watch, 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.

6 Comments

  1. This is great news! Really? A project that would impact rare species was approved without NEPA assessment; that is completely out of line! That was the Obama USFS — who the heck knows how low the bar will be under Trump? The agency should have known better and it needs to follow the law.

  2. I would have thought the FS would have learned, In the late 1990’s after numerous lost appeals and lawsuits, the WO decided it was time to do NEPA right and training for NEPA was given throughout the US. Have leaders forgotten this? To propose such a project without Public Involvement and NEPS is just plain irresponsible. Do it right and you can defend a proposed action.

    • David, it would be interesting to know what their thought process was, especially when they knew they were going to court. Certainly the FS is fully capable of “doing NEPA right.”

      PS Good to know this project wasn’t driven by the “timber industry” ;.

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