April 19 deadline for Comment on Logging and ‘Treatment’ Plan for Local Forests (and Opposition Statement)

UPDATE: April 19 is the deadline for submitting a comment on proposed “treatment” of Tecuya Ridge trees, using commercial loggers, without environmental impact reports. See opposition statement about concern of harm to endangered California condor for public consideration. It is below, from Los Padres Forest Watch.

By Gary Meyer, TME

Kern County has received a major grant to remove dead trees from the forest west of Pine Mountain Club later this year. The Mount Pinos Ranger District has also announced two proposed fuel reduction projects. One of the U.S. Forest Service plans is in Cuddy Valley. The other is along Tecuya Ridge. Public comments on both projects are due by April 19.

See the download links for each project proposal and an opposition statement from Los Padres Forest Watch below.

Cuddy Valley Forest Health/Fuels Reduction Project

This project is located within Cuddy Valley adjacent to Piñon Pines Estates and extends to the lower slopes of Mt. Piños.

“The project consists of approximately 1,200 acres of natural stands that we identified as overstocked and therefore at risk of loss to insect[s] and disease,” according to the project proposal.

“A combination of mechanical thinning, mastication of brush and smaller trees, and hand treatments including hand thinning, brush cutting, pruning, handpiling of material and follow-on burning of piles would be used to reduce the stocking in selected stands and to change the structure of live and dead material in treated stands.”

Since 1998 there have been 15 fire starts within the project area. While all of these starts were stopped at 10 acres or less, there have been numerous fires over 1,000 acres in size within or adjacent to the project area, according to the proposal.

Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuel Break Project

The Tecuya Ridge project is located along Tecuya Mountain overlooking the communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods, Piñon Pines Estates and Pine Mountain Club.

The proposal states that past fire suppression activities have caused widespread accumulation of fuels that could lead to catastrophic wildland fire events.

The Tecuya Ridge project consists of approximately “1,626 acres of natural timbered stands and brush fields that were identified by the Mt. Pinos Community Wildfire Protection Plan as priority treatment areas.”

The project would “create a variable-width, shaded fuelbreak, along Tecuya Ridge in order to…reduce fuel loading, protect local communities and provide for firefighter safety.”

Download the proposal for the Cuddy Valley project at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52500.

Download the proposal for the Tecuya Ridge project at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52502

Public comments on both projects are due by April 19. Send comments via email to: comments-pacificsouthwest-los-padres-mt-pinos@fs.fed.us

Include the project name in the subject line of your email.

You can hand-deliver comments Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to: Gregory Thompson c/o Mt. Pinos Ranger District, 34580 Lockwood Valley Road, Frazier Park, CA 93225. You can also mail comments to the same address.

If approved, completion of the Cuddy Valley and Tecuya Ridge projects is expected in August-September of this year.

Kern County in the Money

Kern County has obtained $2.2M in grants, part of which will be spent to remove 400 dead trees from Pine Mountain Club at a cost of about $500 per tree.


Forest Service Seeks to Push Through Commercial Logging Projects That Would Threaten Condors with No Environmental Assessment

Projects Could Impact Endangered California Condor Roosting Sites Along Tecuya Ridge
By Bryant Baker, Los Padres Forest Watch
Frazier Park, CA — A Forest Service logging project proposed along twelve miles of Tecuya Ridge would harm dozens of critical roosting sites for endangered California condors, a recent analysis of condor data shows. Despite these roosting sites, the Forest Service is seeking to exclude the project — and a similar project in Cuddy Valley — from environmental review and is providing minimal opportunities for public comment. The only official public comment period for both projects ends on April 19.

The projects, announced last month, would involve removing trees of all sizes and up to 95% of sagebrush habitat along 12 miles of Tecuya Ridge and across 1,200 acres of Cuddy Valley between Lockwood Valley and the San Emigdio Mountains. In the announcement, the Forest Service indicated that both projects would be excluded from environmental review.

The logging and clearing would affect nearly 4.5 square miles of some of the only truly forested land in the Los Padres as well as over 1,000 acres of the Antimony Inventoried Roadless Area. This area is home to several species of conifers such as ponderosa, Jeffrey, and pinyon pines as well as white fir and bigcone Douglas-fir. Because of this unique makeup of coniferous forest, the area supports dozens of species of threatened, endangered, sensitive, and rare wildlife including the California condor, California spotted owl, Tehachapi white-eared pocket mouse, monarch butterfly, and San Emigdio blue butterfly.

The Forest Service has refused repeated requests for additional information about the projects, including project boundary data, timber stand surveys, and a listing of which rare plants and animals may be affected. Forest officials have also failed to respond to our request for access to the project sites. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for the public to submit meaningful comments on the proposal.

To fill this information gap, ForestWatch has been working with their own biologists and other experts to determine the potential impacts these massive logging projects would have on species such as the iconic and endangered California condor. With less than 300 condors in the wild, preserving their habitat on public lands like the Los Padres National Forest is critically important. An analysis of four years of condor data revealed 14 roosting sites within the Tecuya Ridge project area and an additional 24 roosting sites within a half-mile of the project area. Roosts — ancient trees that condors use for rest and shelter during long flights across the landscape — are vitally important to the long-term survival of the species. The Forest Service’s own standards prohibit intrusive activities within a half-mile of condor roosts. Over 65% of the Tecuya Ridge project area is within this half-mile roost buffer zone, yet the Forest Service does not plan to fully analyze how the project will impact these critical sites.

The Forest Service has indicated that the primary purpose of the projects is to reduce the risk of wildfire in the area. However, several studies have shown that dead trees do not increase the risk of wildfire. In fact, they may actually reduce the intensity of fire — even when tree mortality is due to beetles. In addition to reducing the number of large fire-resistant trees, thinning can decrease shaded canopy cover, which can then increase understory temperatures. This reduces moisture and opens up forested areas to more wind — both factors that can cause wildfires to spread faster and hotter. A recent study even showed that the most protected mixed-conifer forests and those with generally the greatest amount of vegetation may actually burn at lower severity levels than forests unprotected from logging. In working to better protect communities from wildfires, the Forest Service should be proposing approaches that are supported by science and shown to be effective. These include creating defensible space and focusing vegetation removal directly next to homes, retrofitting and building structures with fire-safe materials, and reducing development in the area directly next to communities, the wildland-urban interface.

The Forest Service’s announcement reverses the agency’s previous commitment to prepare more detailed Environmental Assessments for logging and clearing projects. In response to ForestWatch’s concerns about six projects proposed in 2005, the agency announced that it would prepare Environmental Assessments — the simplest form of environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act — for these similar and even smaller logging projects around Mt. Pinos, Frazier Park, and Figueroa Mountain. These assessments not only examine the potential impacts of proposed projects, but increase transparency and the public’s ability to weigh in.

The proposed projects on Tecuya Ridge and in Cuddy Valley must be held to the same standards as past logging projects in the Los Padres. There is a public comment period open until April 19, and this may be the only chance the public has to weigh in with concerns about these projects. Visit LPFW.org for more information and to submit comments.

This is part of the April 13, 2018 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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