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September 23, 2005

CONTACT: Monica Bond, Center for Biological Diversity: 415-436-9682 x305
Bill Corcoran, Sierra Club: 213-387-6528 x208
More Information: Reports on Southern California Forests

Forest Service Plans Leave Southern California Forests at Risk
Management Plans Fail to Meet Needs of Majority of Forest Visitors

Los Angeles –The final land management plans for the four national forests of southern California fail to protect the forests from new and rapidly growing threats and do not serve most forest visitors, according to California conservation organizations. The final plans, released yesterday by the Forest Service, affect 3,530,723 acres of forest land, guiding decisions on everything from protecting wildlife and providing recreational opportunities, to deciding where potentially damaging development can be placed.

“The Forest Service has let down the vast majority of forest visitors. Four years and millions of dollars have been spent on a plan that will only lead to a further decline in the quality of visitors’ experiences and the health and beauty of the forests. Those who love and value our forests must champion an alternative vision that will serve the public and protect the forests in ways the Forest Service plans fail to do,” said Bill Corcoran, Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative.

The forests are visited by over eight million people a year—twice the number of visitors to Yosemite National Park. These forests are where many children play in snow for the first time, see their first pinecones and deer, and wade in their first sparkling creek. For millions of residents, a personal link with our natural world begins and is sustained on the four forests.

The final plans fail to address challenges that threaten the natural and recreational values in the four forests. The Cleveland National Forest is confronted with proposals to flood a popular recreation area for a hydroelectric plant, build a toll road through wilderness-quality lands, and construct massive power transmission lines along a spectacular scenic vista. A plan to drill for oil in condor habitat and ongoing off-road vehicle damage are key threats on the Los Padres National Forest.

A toll road has also been proposed through the Angeles National Forest, where visitors often suffer inadequate facilities and services, and major new developments are gradually encircling the forest, threatening vital wildlife migration trails, increasing the risk of fire and impacting recreation opportunities. The San Bernardino National Forest faces similar development risks, particularly from growth pressures on communities surrounded by national forest land.

Off-road vehicle damage on all of the forests is a key threat. The new plans will expand harmful, polluting off-road vehicle use on the forests while offering few improvements for the 95% of visitors who don’t use off-road vehicles.

In the plans, the Forest Service largely rejected using its own best land designation tools to protect the forests from harmful development such as oil wells, toll roads, and transmission lines, despite public demand for stronger protection. For example, the Forest Service has retreated from wilderness protection for Morrell Canyon, a popular hiking destination on the Cleveland NF, facilitating plans to flood the canyon for a hydroelectric project. The recommendation for protection was included in last year’s draft plans.

“The Forest Service admits that there is not enough wilderness designation in the plans to meet public demand, but has refused to do much about it. Giving these last wild places the highest level of protection is the best defense against damaging development. When even a beloved place like Morrell Canyon can’t be protected, it’s clear that the plans have ignored the public interest,” said Sara Barth, The Wilderness Society Regional Director.

The final plans also lack adequate protections for the 470 plants and animals on the forests, identified by state and federal agencies as threatened, endangered, sensitive, or of concern - including the Nelson bighorn sheep and the California condor. Viewing wildlife is one of the most popular visitor activities on the forests.

“With these plans, the Forest Service has abdicated the regional leadership it alone can provide to protect our rapidly disappearing native wildlife and plants. Worse, their final plans leave our native wildlife and plants at increased risk. Providing management leadership now will ensure a future for southern California’s plants and animals so that our grandchildren can experience the joy of discovering nature,” said Monica Bond, Center for Biological Diversity Wildlife Biologist.

“The Forest Service has adopted plans that are out of balance with the needs of most forest visitors. As the amount of open space beyond forest boundaries dwindles and the population grows, protecting the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities provided by the four forests is of ever growing importance. These plans fail to provide the decisive leadership needed to meet that challenge,” said Corcoran.

Conservation groups will continue to encourage a positive vision for strong protection of the forests and communities, and support a sustainable future for non-motorized recreation on the forests. This vision will be the foundation for a long-range campaign to replace today’s failed forest plans with improved plans that reflect the needs and values of the majority of forest visitors.

Sierra Club • Center for Biological Diversity •
The Wilderness Society • California Wilderness Coalition • Los Padres ForestWatch


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