(CN) – The U.S. government reached a settlement with environmental groups over land-management plans for four national forests in Southern California.
A federal judge had ruled in 2009 that the plans, which would affect 3.5 million acres of public land, violated both the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
California, the Center for Biological Diversity and six other wildlife and conservation groups wued the U.S. Forest Service to halt the project.
The groups claimed that government officials were disregarding environmental laws as they approved new road construction to meet population growth. At stake were the habitats and wildlife of the Angeles National Forest, Cleveland National Forest, Los Padres National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest.
“The national forests are located near 28 of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and 11 of the nation’s largest cities are located within a two-hour drive of most of the Southern California national forests,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s website states. “More than 20 million people live within the metropolitan Los Angeles and San Diego areas, making this one of the most densely populated regions in North America. By 2020, the region’s population is expected to expand to 35 million people.”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel of the San Francisco federal court approved the settlement, which requires a closer examination of the plans’ environmental impact and prohibits activities that “impair the wilderness values” of the four forests.
The government will provide a list of roads, trails and unauthorized routes in the four forests. It also agreed to accelerate restoration efforts and decommission some roads and trails.
The settlement includes $250,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.