March 22, 2002
LAWSUIT RESULTS IN SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT PROTECTING WILD AND
SCENIC RIVERS IN THE LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
Brent Plater, Center for Biological Diversity 510-841-0812
Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Federal District Court in the Northern District of California approved a legal settlement agreement Thursday afternoon that will protect three wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest. Covering over 80 river miles on the Big Sur River, Sisquoc River, and Sespe Creek, the agreement requires the Forest Service to complete comprehensive management plans for the rivers by December of 2003 and puts interim conservation measures in place to protect the Los Padres' designated wild and scenic rivers.
The agreement, reached between the United States Forest Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Defense Center, and Keep Sespe Wild, requires the Forest Service to end a six-year delay in complying with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act ("WSRA"). The WSRA, passed by Congress in 1968, mandates that agencies responsible for managing segments of the Wild and Scenic River System prepare comprehensive management plans to protect the designated river segments within three years of their addition to the WSRA system. Portions of the Big Sur River, Sespe Creek, and Sisquoc River were officially added to the WSRA system in 1992. By law the Forest Service was required to create the management plans by 1995, but they failed to do so.
settlement will ensure that wildlife will be enhanced, riparian habitats
will be preserved, and heavily used recreation areas will be restored,"
said Brent Plater, an Attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
"We are excited that these magnificent rivers will finally get the
management attention Congress desired."
Highlights of the agreement include:
The Forest Service will publish Comprehensive Management Plans for each
designated river and the bordering and adjacent areas by December of 2003.
The plans will include an assessment, and where appropriate, a restriction
of mining claims, grazing, water withdrawals, over-use, and introduction
of exotic species.
John Buse of the Environmental Defense Center stated, "Once good management plans are in place, we can look forward to needed protection for the rivers' water quality and endangered fisheries. We will continue to monitor the Forest Service to ensure that the final plans protect the rivers for future generations."
The conservation groups were represented in the case by Neil Levine of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, John Buse of the Environmental Defense Center and Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, with offices in Berkeley, San Diego, and Idyllwild, California. The Center was founded in 1989 and has more than 7,500 members throughout the U.S. The Center primarily works to protect endangered wildlife and habitat through science, policy, education, and environmental law.
The Environmental Defense Center (Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo) is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation of the environment in California's south-central coast region through public advocacy and the private enforcement of federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations.
Keep Sespe Wild (Ojai) is a non-profit watershed conservation organization
which was founded in 1988, to preserve Sespe Creek, one of Southern California's
last free-flowing rivers.
Big Sur River-Congress designated 19.5 miles of the Big Sur River as "wild" under the WSRA, from its headwaters to the Ventana Wilderness boundary. This coastal stream is characterized by steep slopes, which are covered with chaparral and oaks. Redwoods are found along almost the entire length of the river. The Big Sur River contains an excellent trout fishery, include steelhead trout.
Sespe Creek-Congress designated 27.5 miles of Sespe Creek as a "wild "river, and 4 miles as "scenic" river. Sespe Creek is a major tributary of the Santa Clara River, which flows to the ocean. The river contains unique geological formations, unusual gorges, and riparian vegetation. Steep canyon walls, swimming pools, and hot springs make the river attractive for recreational use. The 53,000 acre Sespe Condor Sanctuary protects critical condor nesting and roosting sites adjacent to the river. There is an excellent trout fishery in the river and the river provides suitable habitat for steelhead trout recovery.
Sisquoc River-Congress designated 33 miles as a "wild" river. The designation extends its origin in the Los Padres National Forest to the forest boundary. The Sisquoc River empties into the Santa Maria River, which flows to the ocean. Most of the designated portions on the Sisquoc are located in the rugged San Rafael Wilderness Area. The river channel is narrow and rocky, with picturesque waterfalls, pools, and shallow gorges. Riparian vegetation, including oaks, alders, and willows, chaparral, and springtime wildflowers dominant the landscape. The endangered condor occurs along the upper portions of the river, including an area designated as the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary to protect the birds' bathing, roosting, and nest sites.