Despite a reprieve from devastating wildfires across Southern California, opposition to a controversial plan to recover wood from the Los Padres National Forest continues to smolder, even as foresters plot ways to restore the sprawling wilderness after this year’s blazes.

Los Padres ForestWatch – a Santa Barbara-based organization dedicated to preservation of the Los Padres Forest, which blankets much of Ventura County – filed an official challenge Nov. 29 of a plan by local U.S. Forest Service officials to cut trees scorched by the 2006 Day Fire. As discussed in a previous Reporter article (see "Zaca blaze overshadows forest plan," News, 8/16/07), the forest service plans to authorize the first commercial logging operation in the Los Padres in decades as part of its effort to clear so-called "hazard" trees from land burnt by the Day fire. The trees are in locations near hiking trails and campgrounds and could endanger visitors to the forest.

Under the plan, which was finalized Oct. 11 by forest supervisor Peggy Hernandez, 1,430 trees more than 16 inches in diameter and considered to be the most commercially valuable will be harvested by private logging companies along a series of roadways and could net more than 700,000 board feet of lumber. The forest service’s own crews will clear hazard trees not considered to be commercially viable.

Although the forest service will not allow logging more than one and a half tree-lengths from the roads, Los Padres ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper said the final decision didn’t adequately address dozens of public comments made about the decision and could cause lasting environmental damage just as the forest recovers from the Day Fire.

"Obviously no one wants a situation out there where trees are creating a safety hazard for people," Kuyper said. "We recognize that, but our main concern is to make sure the forest service achieves that safety goal, but without hindering the recovery."

The appeal to regional forester Randy Moore is the last step before ForestWatch takes challenges to the courts. Kuyper said his organization believes a full environmental impact report should have been made before a decision was issued, but the forest service contends that one is not necessary because it classifies the tree removals as routine road maintenance.

The forest service did accede to some of the concerns expressed in the public comment period. It scrapped a plan to burn "slash," or debris such as branches and leaves left by logging, in a giant pile.

"That’s a step in the right direction," Kuyper said. He added that he remains optimistic that his group’s other concerns will be addressed in the appeal process.

"This project can influence how the forest service deals with the aftermath of wildfires anywhere on the Los Padres National Forest," Kuyper said. "We want to make sure that when the forest service wants to remove hazards from certain areas that they do so in an environmentally sensitive manner. We don’t think it’s appropriate for them to use private logging companies."

Forest service officials have made preliminary recommendations for restoration of forest land scorched by the Zaca Fire, which burned more than 240,000 acres from July 1 to Sept. 2, and the Ranch Fire – part of the massive firestorm that hit Southern California in late October. The first priority is stabilizing road infrastructure in the burnt areas to withstand winter rains, forest spokeswoman Kathy Good said.

Detailed descriptions of the restoration plans can be found on the forest service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres/fire/baer. The complete appeal and more information about Los Padres ForestWatch’s is available at www.lpfw.org/news/0712logging.htm.