Community members primarily from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties have submitted more than 10,000 public comments regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s logging proposal along the six-mile ridge known as Pine Mountain in the backcountry of Ventura County.
With the deadline for public comment today, opposition for the project has been building as environmentalists say the project has received more comments than any single previously proposed project in the Los Padres National Forest.
According to a group of local forest advocates known as Los Padres ForestWatch, concerns about the project include a lack of an appropriate environmental study, disturbance of cultural sites and damage to recreational areas, an increase in wildfire risks and the chance the project would be conducted by a commercial logging company.
Local tribal groups, elected representatives and more than 30 businesses in the area have chimed in on the project.
“Our primary concern is the project’s lack of attention and near total insensitivity to the potential impact to Chumash cultural values and resources,” Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, chair of the Barbareno/Ventura Band of Mission Indians, said in a statement.
Equivalent to the size of 575 American football fields, environmental groups claim the Forest Service intends to fast-track the new proposed project deep in the Ventura backcountry by citing it as “forest health and fuels reduction.”
According to the LPFW, vegetation removal projects like Pine Mountain can increase wildfire risk by removing fire-resistant trees, increasing heating and drying of the forest floor, and spreading non-native invasive grasses and weeds that ignite more easily and spread wildfire more quickly.
“I understand, the U.S. Forest Service’s own assessment of potential and existing fuel breaks in the southern Los Padres National Forest ranks this project as 118 out of 163 in terms of priority,” Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Ventura, of California’s 26th Congressional District, said in a statement.
“Given the project’s low priority, it is unclear to me why this project has been selected to bypass complete environmental analysis.”
Nearly 70 environmental and social justice organizations have signed a separate letter to challenge the U.S. Forest Service’s actions surrounding the project.
Environmental advocates said more than one-third of the project area is protected by the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which was approved by the House in February. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and is expected to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act which will go to conference committees in the coming weeks.
“Much of the project area is in its natural state, evolved over time without the disturbance of heavy modern machinery. Once trees are cut and the landscape is scarred by a project like this, the wilderness quality of the place is ruined,” said ForestWatch advocacy director Rebecca August. “We hope that those who have not yet spoken make their voices heard before it’s too late.”email: firstname.lastname@example.org