As an organization promoting active management of public lands to ensure public safety, protect forest health, and provide a sustainable timber supply, the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) supports the proposed Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project on the Los Padres National Forest. That’s why AFRC, joined by the California Forestry Association (CalForests) and Associated California Loggers (ACL), is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit that would overturn this important forest management project.
Forests along Tecuya Mountain are unnaturally overgrown, weakened by drought and beetle attacks, and have become highly vulnerable to wildfire. Along Tecuya Ridge, the Los Padres National Forest’s expert managers have determined forest management activities are needed to restore natural conditions and resiliency to wildfire, while reducing risks to public lands and nearby communities.
The project will help protect nearby communities.
According to the Forest Service, there have been 15 wildfires within the Tecuya project area since 1998. The Tecuya Project, located in Kern County, consists of approximately 1,626 acres already identified by the Mt. Pinos Community Wildfire Protection Plan and the Los Padres National Forest Strategic Fuelbreak Assessment as priority areas for treatments. Its purpose is to provide safe and effective locations for fire suppression efforts, slow the speed of wildfire, and reduce the potential for loss of life, property and natural resources.
The fuelbreak areas would be strategically placed around communities within the wildland-urban interface including the communities of Frazier Park and Pine Mountain Club. These forested communities are have some of the highest risk of wildfire in the state according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and Cal Fire maps. While the fuelbreak will not prevent wildfires, strategic fuelbreak locations will give firefighters a much better opportunity to contain a fire before it threatens people and homes.
The Forests on Tecuya Mountain are overgrown, dying and ripe for wildfire.
The Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project area contains approximately over 1,500 acres of mixed conifer and pinyon-juniper dominated stands. With up to 480 trees per acres, five times the historic level, the stands are unnaturally overstocked and unable to withstand attacks by bark beetles.
Due to the insect infestations and extreme drought, hundreds of trees in the project area are dying at increasing rates and providing more fuel for future fires. These conditions will only worsen with the continued impacts of climate change. Scientific research suggests treatments of these overstocked stands can reduce risks of further insect attacks and tree deaths, as bark beetles bypass treated stands in search for more preferable conditions.
The Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project will also help protect wildlife habitat.
Opponents of the project have raised concerns about possible impacts to the California condor. To the contrary, the project has been carefully designed to protect the condor both in the short- and long- term. Experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the project, agreeing with the Forest Service that the project is not likely to adversely affect any condors. Although condors may occasionally pass through the project area, the closest nesting sites are about 20 miles away. The Forest Service carefully developed measures to ensure protection of condors, including restricting management activities and human uses within 1.5 miles of any active California condor nest sites and ceasing any project activities if a condor is observed in the action area.
In fact, the project is expected to benefit the California condor by helping to prevent catastrophic fires that eliminate roosting habitat over a larger area, and by improving foraging habitat by creating more open areas for finding and catching prey.
The Forest Service legally expedited the project, using long-standing tools and policies.
Over the last decade, land managers and scientists at the U.S. Forest Service have become increasingly concerned about the state of our National Forests. Congress enacted new tools for the Forest Service on a broad bipartisan basis in 2014, 2018, and 2019, working with presidents of both parties.
The Forest Service authorized the Tecuya Mountain under the “timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement” categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). A “categorical exclusion” is a mechanism that allows for expedited environmental analysis since the agency has analyzed, determined, and documented that those activities typically do not result in significant effects on the environment. The project was also determined to be consistent with the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule because no new road construction or re-construction is proposed for the project, and the Roadless Rule explicitly allows timber management to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects.
The Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project is an important effort to improve the health of public lands impacted by insect attacks and drought. It is carefully designed to restore the resiliency of these lands while protecting nearby communities and mitigating any impacts to vulnerable species. AFRC believes the Forest Service used the appropriate analyses, tools and policies to expedite this project under federal law. That’s why AFRC is standing with its Federal partners in the courtroom to support this project: it’s the right thing to do for safety of communities near the Forest and for public lands that belong to all Americans.