The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied petitions to rehear challenges to a pair of forest health and fuels reduction projects in Los Padres National Forest’s Mt. Pinos Ranger District.
External groups sued the U.S. Forest Service for using a categorical exclusion, but on June 21 and 24, the court upheld the forest service’s science-based defense of these projects to address tree mortality and the dangerous accumulation of fuels on the forest floor.
A categorical exclusion can be applied when a project falls within the actions that Congress determined will not have a significant effect on the environment. When a CE is applied, an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is not required.
By using a CE, land management agencies can reduce paperwork and save time and resources.
According to the forest service, the Cuddy Valley Forest Health and Fuels Reduction project will treat 1,200 acres heavily impacted by the Ips bark beetle, which has contributed to widespread tree mortality.
A combination of mechanical treatments, including mastication of brush and smaller trees as well as hand treatments to reduce overstocking and prescribed burning, will be used to enhance these diseased stands and promote fire hazard reduction and forest health.
Specialists on site will ensure endangered and sensitive species are not impacted during project implementation, according to the forest service.
After completing additional analysis of the Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak and Fuels Reduction project, implementation of the upcoming decision for the project will create safe and effective locations for wildland firefighters to perform fire suppression operations.
Shaded fuel breaks help to slow the spread of a wildfire and provide a buffer between developed areas and wildlands, according to the forest service.
The Tecuya Ridge project consists of 1,626 acres along Tecuya Mountain above the communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods, Pine Mountain Club and Pinon Pine Estates.
“The Forest Service has an obligation to work with residents, community groups and local fire safe councils to improve conditions in areas hit hardest by insect and disease, drought and a changing climate,” said Chris Stubbs, forest supervisor.