CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
CONSERVATION GROUPS CHALLENGE BIG SUR GRAZING DECISION
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 24, 2005
Jeff Miller (510) 499-9185
Local conservation groups today appealed a controversial decision by the U. S. Forest Service to expand livestock grazing in endangered species habitat and within wilderness areas, along the Big Sur Coast in the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF). The Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Los Padres ForestWatch (LPFW), and the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club (VCSC) formally appealed a LPNF decision to create one new grazing allotment, dramatically expand and re-authorize grazing on an existing allotment, and re-authorize grazing leases on four other allotments covering over 24,000 acres. Cattle and other livestock grazing on the coastal allotments threatens several federally listed species, including the Smith’s blue butterfly, South-Central Coast steelhead trout and the California red-legged frog, and negatively impacts sensitive vernal pool habitat and numerous rare plant species. The decision also illegally increases grazing levels in a Forest Service Wilderness Area, conflicts with recreational uses, and could lead to further damage of Native American sites and areas of cultural significance.
“These grazing plans threaten some of the rarest species and most beautiful landscapes of the Big Sur coast,” stated Jeff Kuyper, Director of LPFW. “It is astonishing that the Forest Service approved this destructive project in such a spectacular area,” added Kuyper.
In December 2004 the LPNF issued Decision Notices authorizing continued livestock grazing on the Gorda, Alder Creek, Salmon Creek, and San Carpoforo allotments, and authorizing new grazing allotments on the Kozy Kove, Sur Sur, and Sea Vista Ranches. The LPNF proposed almost the exact same grazing scheme in 1999, but withdrew the Decision Notices after VWA and CBD filed an appeal, citing failure to comply with federal laws and numerous inadequacies in the Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding grazing impacts.
Conservation groups filed the appeal today on the basis that the latest EA and decision violate the federal Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Forest Management Act, Wilderness Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. The LPNF failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before issuing its decision. As required by NEPA, a federal agency must prepare an EIS (instead of a less-rigorous EA) for any action with potentially significant environmental effects, such as authorizing livestock grazing in endangered species habitat and designated wilderness areas. The environmental review for the decision was completely inadequate: it failed to explore a reasonable range of alternatives, including not grazing; it failed to consider public comments; it failed to consider cumulative environmental impacts; it inadequately assessed grazing impacts to water quality, soils, recreation, invasive species, and scenic resources; and it failed to consistently use good science in analyzing grazing impacts by ignoring numerous published grazing studies showing significant impacts. The LPNF also failed to provide full public access to the project record for the EA in a timely fashion.
“What we’re doing with this appeal is respectfully pointing out to the Forest Service a number of important aspects of the law that were overlooked in putting together their grazing proposal,” stated Boon Hughey of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance.
Cattle have previously damaged riparian habitat for steelhead trout along Prewitt and Plaskett Creeks in the Gorda allotment and cattle can injure or kill steelhead trout eggs and young fish by treading through anadromous fish streams. Where livestock graze in or near Smith’s blue butterfly habitat, trampling can kill or stunt the growth of seacliff buckwheat, the butterfly’s host plant. Livestock also can crush butterfly pupae, larvae and eggs. Despite repeated requests, the LPNF refused to survey rare vernal pools for sensitive species or survey for red-legged frogs in ponds on the allotments, ignored requests to consider grazing impacts on water quality and habitat in vernal pools, and failed to consult with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on impacts to these species, in violation of the ESA. The LPNF also misrepresented the grazing levels and types of livestock that will be grazing in known habitat for the Smith’s blue butterfly on the Alder, San Carpoforo, and Sea Vista/Sur Sur allotments, in a consultation with the FWS to determine potential impacts to the butterfly.
The project area has a high degree of biological significance: it contains habitat for numerous endangered and other sensitive species; includes portions of and is adjacent to the Congressionally-designated Silver Peak Wilderness Area; is bordered by the recently-designated California Coastal National Monument; contains San Carpoforo Creek, which was declared an “area of particularly high ecological significance” in the Forest Service’s Southern California Mountains and Foothills Assessment; and is adjacent to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The Ventana Wilderness Alliance is a non-profit conservation group whose mission is to protect, preserve, enhance and restore the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within the northern Santa Lucia Mountains.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats. The Center works to protect and restore natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education, policy, and environmental law.
Los Padres ForestWatch is a non-profit conservation organization working to protect and restore the Los Padres National Forest and surrounding public lands using law, science, education, and community involvement.