Court Rules That Southern California Forest Plans Violate Law by Ignoring Effects of Development on 974,000 Roadless Acres

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Erin Tobin, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
David Edelson, The Wilderness Society, (415) 215-7238
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943
James Navarro, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0247

Court Rules That Southern California Forest Plans Violate Law by Ignoring Effects of Development on 974,000 Roadless Acres

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 conservation 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
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 wildest, most pristine areas
of Southern California's national forests have been given a second
chance by this court decision," said Ileene Anderson of the Center for
Biological Diversity. "These areas provide critically important
strongholds for endangered species such as steelhead, the California
condor, and the arroyo toad - refuges that are crucial to the animals'
survival 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 such imperiled species 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."

Background

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 plan
developed by the Center and a coalition of other groups during the
revision process. That plan 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 more than 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. More than 20 million Californians
live within one hour's drive of at least one of these four national
forests.

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