San Francisco, CA
An agreement approved today by US District Judge Charles Breyer will require the Forest Service to complete a comprehensive management plan for the Big Sur River, Sisquoc River and Sespe Creek by December 2003. Both the Sisquoc and the Sespe are to habitat for the endangered California condor, steelhead trout and red-legged frog.
These waterways, listed in 1992 under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, will gain stronger protections under a legal settlement reached between the Forest Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Defense Center, and Keep Sespe Wild. The groups were represented by Earthjustice attorney Neil Levine and Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Interim protections will go into effect immediately and include a ban on oil and gas or mineral development within each of the three corridors. The three waterways flow through the Los Padres National Forest, and are currently threatened by a Forest Service proposal to open up certain parts of the Forest to oil and gas exploration. Other interim measures include a halt to any new road building within the three riparian corridors, as well as a ban on cattle or sheep grazing within the protected zones. For purposes of the agreement, the corridor is defined as one-quarter mile in width on each side of the river or creek.
The drilling proposals in Los Padres are another example of the Bush adminstration’s plan to extract energy resources from even fragile wilderness areas. The Forest Service is proposing to open up 140,000 roadless acres in Los Padres National Forest to oil and gas leasing. Los Padres, the third-largest national forest in California, includes some of the wildest and most rugged land in the state. It encompasses 1.75 million acres and covers six counties, from Monterey to Ventura.
The three groups filed suit to end the Forest Service’s six-year delay in complying with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was passed by Congress in 1968. The act requires agencies responsible for protecting rivers to prepare comprehensive management plans within three years of their designation as wild and scenic.
The agreement affects 19 1/2 miles of the Big Sur River, from its headwaters to the Ventana Wilderness boundary, and 33 miles of the Sisquoc River, from its origin in Los Padres National Forest to the forest boundary. Congress also designated 27 1/2 miles of Sespe Creek as “wild” and 4 miles as “scenic.” Sespe Creek is a major tributary of the Santa Clara River.