Tuesday, March 4, 2008

State Files Suit Against U.S. Forest Service

Management’s plan for oil drilling expansion at issue as state joins conservation groups

By Nao Braverman
As managers of the nation’s treasured national forests, the U.S. Forest Service are responsible for protecting the natural resources and endangered species that preside there. But, according to California Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr., the federal agency has not been doing its job.
Brown and Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman filed a lawsuit Thursday, against the U.S Forest Service for its allegedly illegal management plans in the Los Padres National Forest, along with three other California forests.
The lawsuit was spurred by the Forest Service’s 2006 revised management plan that allows for expanded construction and oil drilling as well road construction in previously undeveloped areas.
Since 1988, the Forest Service has been required to have its own management plan, explained Forest Service forest planner Tom White. As an agency responsible for accommodating multiple uses, the Forest Service is mandated to allow for some oil drilling, livestock grazing and logging as well as recreation, he said. The management plan is intended to balance those various uses with the protection of the forest’s natural resources, he added.
In one of the Forest Service’s efforts to protect California’s most pristine areas, a moratorium against construction in the forest’s roadless areas was agreed upon in 2000, and confirmed in writing by the Forest Service in 2005 and 2006 according to the lawsuit.
But the Forest Service’s revised plans last year, allow for construction on more than 500,000 acres of roadless area in California’s national forests, allow for the expansion of oil drilling, and designate only half a million acres of the forest as purely wilderness areas.
The 1.8 million-acre Los Padres National Forest, in particular, the principal site for California condor restoration, should be better protected, according to the lawsuit.
The state’s charges follow a previous lawsuit filed by three conservation groups, Los Padres Forest Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, against the Forest Service in April 2007.
Though conservation groups’ charges were primarily focused on the expansion of oil drilling, in a precursor to the state’s lawsuit, they claimed that the Forest Service’s plans violate the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act and the 1976 National Forest Management Act. Both laws were also cited in the state’s lawsuit last week.
“The expansion of oil drilling and construction in our roadless areas is incompatible with forest recreation, clean air and the protection of wildlife,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Forest Watch. “From our perspective the Los Padres Forest is already providing its fair share of oil.”
In January 2007, a Vintage Production oil line in the Sespe oil fields let five 42-gallon barrels of oil and 50 gallons of groundwater spill into the forest floors. The company was fined $350,000 early this year for the incident along with 12 other spills countywide.
White said that the Forest Service decided to allow for some construction in roadless areas because of the agency’s responsibility to allow access for oil drilling, timber harvesting and cattle grazing.
Although lawsuits have been filed by environmental activists there have also been legal charges against the Forest Service by oil, timber and cattle raising companies, he explained.
Kathy Good, Forest Service spokesperson, confirmed that the Forest Service had no economic incentive to allow for oil drilling because the money generated from allowing such drilling goes to the general treasury instead of the Forest Service’ funds.
Though she said that the Forest Service was concerned about the recent oil spills in the Los Padres Forest, Forest Service staff felt the responsible companies did a good job of cleaning them up. She also said that a 2005 study, identifying National Forest land with high oil and gas potential, also identified areas that oil and gas drilling could occur in a manner that would not harm the environment.
Kuyper said that environmental advocates do not agree that there is any remaining land in the Los Padres Forest that would not be appropriate for oil drilling.
The revised management plan still does not allow surface disturbance in roadless areas, said Good.
It does, however allow for directional drilling which would allow oil to be extracted from beneath ground in roadless areas.

No comments: