Editorial

Editorial

Editorial: Killing 15,228 trees under cover of COVID, Aug. 7

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Ojai Valley News photo by Perry Van Houten

 

In late May, while Ojai residents sat at home sewing masks, the U.S. Forest Service — an agency of the Department of Agriculture — not wanting to miss an opportunity to harvest a crop (this time our national forest) before it may burn naturally, rolled out its “Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project” to cut 15,228 trees, in the name of “health.”

Los Padres Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliot leads the charge on this logging operation, tied to USFS funding, in a proposed wilderness area. He claims that the massive 755-acre logging and habitat clearance project in old-growth conifer forest and chaparral is “categorically exempt” from environmental review required by law. To claim such an exemption in this fragile area is to effectively nullify the National Environmental Protection Act. The project is ill advised, at best, devoid of merit, at worst, and violates federal law at its core.
This project to log live and dead trees up to 24 inches thick with chainsaws and other machinery and to masticate hundreds of acres of chaparral with the alleged purpose of protecting communities is not justified. The public comment period ends on Aug. 14. We must demand a full environmental review as required by NEPA.
When crucial native habitat and old-growth chaparral are gone, biodiversity is lost, while non-native grasses take hold, increasing extreme fire danger as these grasses burn hotter and faster than the chaparral.
Visions of “Bambi” running through the forest are rekindled anew as the USFS warns of the danger of a “stand-replacing” fire engulfing the area from one of “8 million” daily global lightning strikes. Let’s take a step back and look at the recovery of the Yellowstone Fire in 1988 and our own Thomas Fire. Fire scientists have been proved right in both cases that established seedlings produce up to eight times the original number of plants because many seeds require fire to open and grow. Fire can be devastating to civilization, while regenerative and a natural part of a healthy forest ecosystem. The unexpected vigorous regrowth in the Los Padres after the Thomas Fire further supports the policy of letting it burn naturally. The wrong reforestation policies can be worse than no reforestation at all.
What are we protecting? There are very few year-round residents anywhere near this remote area by Pine Mountain. Meanwhile, funds are desperately needed to mitigate the dangerous local wildland fire risk in populated areas such as Ojai. Without an environmental review, this project looks like an opportunity to improve funding for the U.S. Forest Service while the community struggles to locate PPEs.
According to Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council, good policy with our chaparral/shrubland ecosystem is to (1) minimize human-caused ignitions, (2) minimize our impact by not intruding farther into the wildland-urban interface, (3) minimize mechanical disturbance (e.g., mastication), and harden our homes and communities from the structures/community outward.
Los Padres Supervisor Elliott is showing contempt and utter disregard of the public trust by brushing aside federal law during a pandemic with a project that permits the clearance of rare, old-growth chaparral and logging of large trees, some of which are hundreds of years old. It fails to protect communities from fire and it has a negative effect on a biodiverse and fragile area, and limits public engagement.
While the U.S. Forest Service measures our forest in board footage, it is collecting public comments on the proposed project in the Los Padres National Forest until Aug. 14. Widespread opposition includes: Rep. Salud Carbajal; Supervisor Steve Bennett; Ojai City Council; Chris Danch, executive director of the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council; Los Padres ForestWatch; California Wilderness Coalition; Central Coast Wild; Maura Sullivan, tribal member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, Kiyaqšwalaw k’e kiysukuwun.
Please join 12,000 people and the 60 conservation groups that have already sent letters, and demand the public’s right to environmental review of the logging project threatening the proposed wilderness area. Make a public comment and write to your representative. The public comment period closes on Aug. 14.
To make a public comment, visit:

 

Contact:
Los Padres National Forest Headquarters:
6750 Navigator Way, Suite 150, Goleta, CA  93117
Forest Supervisor: Kevin Elliott: 805-865-0416
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sen. Kamala Harris: twitter- @senKamalaHarris

 

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Map of area from Los Padres ForestWatch.