Judge Protects Forest From Forest Service

     SAN JOSE (CN) – A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to protect imperiled species on the remaining 600 miles of a $1 million roadside-clearing project in Central California’s Los Padres National Forest. U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh granted Los Padres Forestwatch’s requests to protect the National Forest from the U.S. Forest Service.

     Judge Koh found that the Forest Service’s failure to seek input from the public or other agencies “flies in the face” of environmental laws designed to ensure an open process.
     The project involves removing trees and vegetation along 750 miles of forest roads in the Los Padres National Forest, to reduce fire risks and other potential hazards.
     Judge Koh found that the Forest Service had failed to seek public input and consult other agencies over its plan, despite its own biologists’ findings that it could affect threatened and endangered species such as the Smith’s blue butterfly and seacliff buckwheat.
     The nonprofit environmental group says the forest hosts 26 species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
After an internal process, the Forest Service in 2009 issued a categorical exclusion exempting the project from environmental review.
     The Forest Service accepted a $1.1 million proposal for the clearing a year ago.
A Forest Service biologist had recommended measures to protect imperiled species, which Los Padres Forestwatch later demanded in its lawsuit.
     These included a biologist being present to review planned clearing areas for the presence of imperiled species, and avoiding clearing along rivers or streams, and during nesting or breeding seasons.
     Koh ordered the Forest Service to do so, in issuing a limited injunction allowing the project to proceed. The Forest Service also must provide weekly progress reports to the environmental group.
     The conditions apply to the remaining 585 miles of the project.

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