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U.S. Forest Service OKS Pine Mountain logging

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Ojai Valley News photo by Perry Van Houten. 

A young, male, mule deer browses beneath the pines on Reyes Peak, north of Ojai. Deer wander through almost all of the Los Padres National Forest including Pine Mountain (Reyes Peak) and Mt. Piños where the logging project will be taking place. 

 

Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter

The U.S. Forest Service approved a controversial plan to cut trees in old-growth forests, removing native chaparral across 755 acres of Pine Mountain. 

The landscape rises nearly 7,000 feet above the foothills of the Ojai Valley and is home to rare California chaparral, hundreds of species of native plants and wildlife, and oldgrowth pine forests. 

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to oppose the logging project on Pine Mountain, with Supervisor Kelly Long dissenting, on Oct. 5. 

The “Reyes Peak Health and Fuels Reduction Project” will alter certain aspects of the open-space area, according to Los Padres ForestWatch, in a written statement. The nonprofit environmental organization said the project will allow: 

— Commercial logging using heavy machinery 

— Removal of thousands of living trees and snags up to 24 inches wide (and up to 64 inches, in certain cases) 

— Clearing of hundreds of acres of native chaparral habitat 

— Creation of “skid trails” (where trees are dragged across the land), along with landing areas where trees are stacked and loaded onto hauling trucks. 

"This decision is yet another step in the wrong direction for the Los Padres National Forest," said Bryant Baker, Conservation director of Los Padres ForestWatch. "It highlights the unwillingness of the Forest Service to listen to the public's concerns." 

Forest Service representatives have said the plan is a necessity for the health of the forest and its surrounding communities. 

“That location was designated because of insect and disease treatment,” said Forest Service Project Manager Katherine Worn. “And it’s on a ridgetop, and that’s where you would put a fuel break.” 

Keep Sespe Wild’s Conservation Director Alasdair Coyne said the project is centered around logging. 

"Project opponents provided Los Padres Forest staff with a great deal of data, critiquing their logging plan and also suggesting how to improve it,” said Coyne. “Los Padres planners ignored every one of these suggestions, meaning that their proposal remains purely and simply a logging plan." 

Los Padres ForestWatch is asking for donations for the Pine Mountain Legal Defense Fund, which they intend to match up to $20,000. 

The legal defense has submitted a 100-page technical review of the agency’s proposal and has met with several locally elected officials to put pressure on the presidential administrations that approved and pushed for the project.

The group has conducted its own wildlife survey to document California spotted owls and other rare wildlife threatened by the project areas.

"We are concerned about the possible destruction and disturbance of archeological and cultural sites as well as irreversible damage to the living ecosystems within the project area," said Mariza Sullivan, chair of the Coastal Band of Chumash Nation. "Efforts should be made to utilize indigenous knowledge and practices that take into account adapting to living in a fire-prone environment. The Forest Service tends to pursue a very aggressive program of logging, clearing out valuable chaparral along the way."

The logging plan was first announced 16 months ago and cited “timber targets,” or quotas for the production of wood. These quotas have increased steadily over the last few years. In 2017, the target for Los Padres National Forest was 200,000 cubic feet. In 2018, that number doubled to 400,000 cubic feet. The 2020 target was 800,000 cubic feet of wood, according to Los Padres ForestWatch.

Worn said that fire reduction, not finances, is the motivation for the project.

“The target tomorrow, next year, could be very different than this year,” said Worn. “This isn’t a timber project. This is a blip. This is the tiniest little amount of wood product.”

A 2016 review from the Ecological Restoration Institute of Northern Arizona University found that forest thinning and prescribed burning can reduce fire severity, but other studies have found that the creation of fuel breaks can increase carbon emissions while introducing invasive species.

A similar process in the Los Padres National Forest to expedite backcountry logging on Mt. Pinos is occurring simultaneously, with the Forest Service announcing in April of 2021 plans to cut thousands of trees across 1,600 acres.

The latest updates on the Reyes Peak project can be found at: https://bit.ly/3iGTfCw.

 

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