Tag Archives: endangered species

Court Rules That Southern California Forest Plans Violate Federal Environmental Laws

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal district court judge ruled late Tuesday that U.S. Forest Service management plans for four Southern California national forests did not adequately protect those forests’ wildest landscapes.

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel agreed with seven environmental groups that the Forest Service failed to assess cumulative damage to those national forests that would be caused by piecemeal road building and other development in most of the forests’ roadless areas, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The environmental groups, represented in the suit by Earthjustice attorneys Erin Tobin and Trent Orr, are the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, California Native Plant Society, California Wilderness Coalition, and The Wilderness Society.

“Some of the most wild and pristine areas of southern California’s national forests were given a second chance with this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “These areas provide critically important strong-holds for endangered species such as steelhead, the California condor and the arroyo toad; especially during this time of climate change.”

“The decision vindicates the public’s right to know how our national forests are managed,” said Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin. “It is a victory for southern California’s wild areas and wildlife, healthy forests, and clean drinking water.”

At issue are more than a million acres of roadless areas within the Angeles, Los Padres, Cleveland and San Bernardino National Forests. The four forests, surrounded by some of the most rapidly urbanizing land in the United States, are the last remaining refuge for the region’s imperiled species such as the California condor. At the same time, the forests are increasingly subject to disturbances ranging from off-road vehicle abuse to oil and gas development to invasive species, the impacts of many of which are exacerbated by road building.

The challenged management plans recommended just 79,000 acres of roadless areas for possible wilderness designation and slotted more than 942,000 acres for possible road building or other development. According to the court’s ruling, the Forest Service violated federal environmental law by ignoring the “larger picture” of how allowing more development in roadless areas – while recommending almost no such areas for permanent wilderness protection – would affect the forests’ irreplaceable landscapes and wildlife.

The court also ruled that the Forest Service’s failure to consider alternative approaches for monitoring the health of forests and their wildlife that are harmed by wildfire management, energy development, and substantial off-road vehicle use was a further violation of the law.

“Forest plans are not empty documents to be placed on the shelf. They’re important roadmaps for resource conservation,” said Kim Delfino, the California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “California’s national forests are some of the last remaining wild places in our state, and smart planning is essential to protecting the resources that make up our national forests, especially vital wildlife habitat.”

“This ruling pulls the rug out from under the Forest Service’s decision to recommend only a paltry acreage of wilderness within the four southern California national forests,” said David Edelson, California Regional Director of The Wilderness Society. “We urge the agency to reconsider its decision and to work with Congress to provide the permanent wilderness protection that the region’s outstanding wildlands deserve.”

“John Muir called for the protection of all wild places,” said Joyce Burk of the Sierra Club’s Southern California  Forests Committee. “Judge Patel’s decision is a great step in the right direction. We applaud her decision.”

The Forest Service revised the forest plans for the four national forests in 2005 in response to a 1998 lawsuit by the Center for Biological  Diversity. The Forest Service largely ignored a comprehensive conservation alternative developed by the Center and a coalition of other conservation groups during the revision process. That alternative would have put in place protections necessary to safeguard the forests’ unique biological diversity. The seven environmental groups filed suit over this and several other flaws in the plans in 2008.

The four national forests of Southern California include over 3.5 million acres of public land from Big Sur to the Mexican border. The forests host a high diversity of ecosystems, including chaparral, oak woodlands, savannas, deserts, and alpine areas. They provide important habitat for numerous sensitive, threatened, and endangered animals. Currently, these areas are significantly affected by poorly managed roads, increasing demands for motorized recreation from the growing populations in Los Angeles and San Diego, oil and gas development, urban infrastructure, and other developmental pressures.

The Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly 2 million acres in the coastal mountains of central California, stretching almost 220 miles from the Big Sur coast in Monterey County to the western edge of Los Angeles County. The Angeles National Forest is near Los Angeles and contains 663,000 acres. The San Bernardino National Forest includes 665,700 acres, and abuts the Inland Empire. The Cleveland National Forest includes 420,000 acres in Orange and San Diego Counties.

Many species of imperiled wildlife, including the arroyo toad, California condor, California red-legged frog, California spotted owl, least Bell’s vireo, northern goshawk, Santa Ana sucker, Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog, southern California steelhead trout, southwestern willow flycatcher, and the unarmored threespine stickleback, will be affected by the new plans. Over 20 million Californians live within one hour’s drive of at least one of these four national forests.

New Year’s Eve Open Thread

Here are your last links of 2008:

• An interesting piece from earlier in the week on Jerry Brown’s legal challenge to Prop. 8, strictly speaking the first time a state Attorney General has sought to invalidate a popularly passed ballot measure since 1964.

• In other Brown news, he’s suing the Bush Administration to block one of their “midnight regulations”- this one would reduce the input of federal scientists on mining and logging projects that may threaten endangered species.

• John Garamendi is, er, a little worried about the trajectory of the state’s financial prospects.

• Again, you can check out Arnold’s plan to cover the $41.8 billion dollar budget hole here.

• And a Happy New Year to everyone, with hopes for a great 2009!  Oh, and if you want to sue for divorce, stay at a parking meter beyond the proscribed time, or not wear a seat belt, better get it in before the end of the year – state fees go up after midnight.

There Will (Still) Be Blood

The idea that California is now immune to any pushback from the fossil fuel industry because we’re so enlightened about global warming and determined to do something about it should take a hit with this story, published by McClatchy, about Occidental Petroleum trying to pull a Daniel Plainview and dig up a national monument.

A subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum has notified the Bureau of Land Management that it would like to explore for oil in a central California national monument.

John Dearing, a BLM spokesman, said the agency can do nothing to stop Vintage Production from testing for oil under the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County because the company has owned the mineral rights there since before President Bill Clinton created the monument in 2001.

“Because this is a national monument, there will be environmental concerns that will have to be strongly looked at,” Dearing said. “But they have a right to access.”

This is in almost precisely the region described in P.T. Anderson’s Oscar-nominated epic.  The oil company bought up the rights and is now asserting the ability to drill despite the landmark status.

Oh by the way, this area is home to the largest concentration of endangered species anywhere in the country.

There is no cone of invincibility around California.  As sure as the coal industry has wormed its way into sponsoring every Presidential debate on CNN and blanketing states like Ohio with messaging that “coal is good for America,” the oil industry will continue to drill in the name of “keeping us off foreign oil” and “securing our energy future.”  There are battles ahead and there shouldn’t be any resting upon laurels.

Speeding Our Way to Peril on the 241

({This is Part 9 of my special report on the proposed extension of the 241 Toll Road to San Onofre State Beach (aka Trestles). If you’d like, you can find the other stories in the “Speeding Our Way to Trestles” series here. As the debate heats up over Trestles and the 241, I’d like to go in depth and examine all the issues involved… And I’d love for you to come along for the ride as we explore what can be done to relieve traffic in South Orange County AND Save Trestles Beach. Enjoy! : ) } – promoted by atdleft)

A national conservation group yesterday named San Mateo Creek as the nation’s second-most imperiled waterway on its annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers.

The report by American Rivers in Washington, D.C., heightens the status of a decade-long battle by fishing groups, surfers and environmentalists to stop plans to build a toll road along the creek and across San Onofre State Beach. […]

It picked San Mateo Creek for the No. 2 spot because of “the magnitude of the threat” posed by the planned toll road, plus state and federal agencies’ decisions expected in the next two years that “will decide the future of the creek,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

Wow. I nearly missed this article buried in The San Diego Union-Tribune last week. However, that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t important. If anything, this article is yet another reminder of the great peril that we all face if TCA is allowed to build a toll road to Trestles.

So what exactly is the threat to San Mateo Creek, the last wild waterway in Southern California? And just how great is this threat? Follow me after the flip for more on what is threatening our wild space.

So why is San Mateo Creek in such peril? And just how grave is the threat? The Union-Tribune has more:

The creek made headlines in 1999 when a college student accidentally discovered southern steelhead, an endangered species, in its waters. Until then, scientists believed the trout were extinct in San Diego and Orange counties.

Efforts to restore the creek and make it more hospitable to steelhead and other native species have been slow but steady, said George Sutherland, a San Clemente volunteer for Trout Unlimited.

Since 2002, the state Coastal Conservancy has allocated $300,000 to upgrade the San Mateo. The creek has been plagued by an invasion of non-native plants and aquatic animals, as well as the pumping of groundwater from an aquifer that supports the creek.

In the past three years, volunteers for Trout Unlimited have removed more than 33,000 non-native bullfrogs, crawfish, largemouth bass, green sunfish and bullheads, Sutherland said.

So what would we lose if TCA were allowed to extend the 241 Toll Road to Trestles? Oh, only several years of progress in restoring the native habitat of the Southern California Steelhead Trout. And if that weren’t bad enough, it gets worse. Seven other endangered species would also lose their home if TCA were allowed to build its toll road to nowhere.

So why build the 241 to Trestles? This boondoggle would do absolutely nothing to ease traffic. This project has already wasted so much of our tax dollars in court, and it would only continue to do so as it is totally illegal. This lame waste of money would ultimately cost us jobs as San Onofre State Park would absolutely have to close? So why waste any more time, any more tax dollars, and any more breath trying to save this worthless proposal?

Is it worth losing the “Yosemite of Surfing”? Is it worth killing off all the endangered species that call this place home? Is it worth annihilating one of California’s most precious treasures? Is it worth killing off THE LAST UNSPOILED WATERWAY IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA?

I don’t think so.