More protections for Southern California forests

Proposed wilderness in California's San Gabriel National Forest. Photo by Annette Kondo, TWS.

Urban Southern California – known for its traffic logjams and ever-growing suburbia – will soon benefit from an agreement to protect one million acres of wild lands in four local national forests.

These added protections are the windfall from a successful lawsuit that challenged the management plans of four Southern California national forests.The Dec. 15 court settlement is a win for drinking water, wildlife habitat, fresh air and outdoor recreation – benefits that will be enjoyed by many generations of families.

The settlement will require the U.S. Forest Service to reexamine its proposed management plans for one million acres of roadless land in the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland national forests. Many of these scenic and pristine areas may eventually be protected as federal Wilderness areas.

A second part of the court settlement will start a process to decommission illegal or obsolete roads in the four national forests. These roads are often not maintained, and as they deteriorate, they impact water quality and sensitive wildlife habitat.

Seven environmental groups - the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres Forest Watch, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, California Wilderness Coalition and The Wilderness Society - were represented by Earthjustice in the lawsuit. The Sept. 29 ruling, by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, will help stop the haphazard road building and other development in our forests.

In heavily populated and developed Southern California, these quiet places of recreation for hikers, hunters and fishermen, are also the last remaining refuge for imperiled species like the California condor, bighorn sheep and the California red-legged frog.

Photo: Proposed wilderness in California's San Gabriel National Forest. Photo by Annette Kondo, The Wilderness Society.