More than a million acres of wildland in the Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland, and San Bernardino national forests have been at the heart of a legal battle between seven environmental groups and the U.S. Forest Service. And a late September ruling in the case seems to have been met with favor from both sides.
At issue was a U.S. Forest Service management plan that opponents argued didn’t adequately protect the most untouched areas of the forests in question. Approved by the service in 2005, the challenged plan called for opening 443,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest’s 600,000 acres of wildland to varying levels of road construction and development, according to a release from one of the plaintiffs, Los Padres ForestWatch.
That group, and others, claimed victory after federal District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel made her decision. They reported the judge ruled the plan didn’t adequately protect “the forest’s most wild and pristine landscapes.”
“We hope the Forest Service will use this court ruling as an opportunity to increase protections for our region’s wild places and wildlife,” Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres ForestWatch’s executive director, said in the release. “We need more wild, undeveloped areas, not less.”
John C. Heil III, public affairs specialist with the USDA Forest Service, sent his response in an e-mail: “We are generally pleased that the court recognized the adequacy of our analysis. We prevailed on the majority of the [National Environmental Policy Act] and [National Forest Management Act] claims.”
Heil specifically pointed out the court’s finding that the service did meet the intent of California policy by coordinating with the state on “the roadless issue”—analysis of effects the management plan would have on wild areas without roads—and mentioned that the court ruled against the service on only two grounds.
Kuyper explained the suit involved several components, not all of which landed in the plaintiffs’ favor. He did, however, feel his group’s wins were the significant ones, and the Forest Service had more to answer to than the state when it comes to policy.
“I don’t see how they can consider that a victory,” he said of the service’s response to the findings.
Ultimately, in her Sept. 29 conclusion, Patel granted and denied in part both sides’ motions for summary judgment.
“The final environmental impact statement at issue in this action was issued in violation of the [National Forest Management Act] and [National Environmental Policy Act], although not for all of the reasons advanced by plaintiffs,” she wrote.
She ordered both sides to file briefs proposing remedies to problems identified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement within 35 days.