Lawsuit Challenges Sprawl Development in High-risk Fire Zone. Otay Ranch Village 14 in San Diego County Endangers Families and Wildlife - 7/25/2019 We joined several other first class conservation organizations to sue San Diego County for approving Otay Ranch Village 14, a sprawl development that will pave over hundreds of acres of habitat for golden eagles and other imperiled wildlife and build new homes in one of California’s most dangerously fire-prone areas. “History has shown that during a wind-driven wildfire, developments like this one in a known fire corridor can and have been destroyed by embers flying a mile or more ahead of the flame front,” said Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute. “The claim that a development like this is fire safe ignores everything we have learned during the destructive 2017 and 2018 firestorms.”
Destruction of Grebe Nests and Nestlings by the San Diego County Water Authority. Hundreds of Western and Clark’s Grebe nests and their eggs have been lost this spring due to the untimely pumping of water from Lake Hodges by the San Diego County Water Authority during the peak nesting season. This is a blatant disregard for San Diego’s priceless biodiversity, a violation of Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and a violation of the California Fish and Wildlife Code, Section 3503.
Rather than spending valuable time and funding on habitat clearance (especially exceeding a property’s immediate surroundings), we urged the USFS to the prioritize its efforts around the factors that are stated in its objective—protecting infrastructure and communities.
Our Most Successful Actions
Protecting a Priceless Chaparral Landscape in Santa Barbara County's Coastal Mountains (3/21/2017) - Victory! With our partners, Los Padres ForestWatch, we asked the court to protect fragile habitat and rare species in the path of a proposed 6-mile-long, 300-foot-wide (the length of a football field) "fuel" break in a remote area of the Los Padres National Forest. Our suit was also an effort to encourage the Forest to focus on reducing fire risk where it matters most, directly in and around communities. In response to our suit, on March 21, 2017, the US Forest Service withdrew the Gaviota/Refugio Canyon fuel break from their approved plans. We will continue to monitor the situation. We are hopeful the Forest Service will eventually understand that the costs of the large fuel break outweigh the benefits and will leave this fragile area undisturbed. The full details of this action can be foundon our Los Padres Clearcut page.
Protected Burrowing Owls in San Diego (1/23/2017) - Victory! Along with a coalition of conservation and environmental justice groups, we reached an agreement with private developers that will protect imperiled burrowing owls, increase renewable solar energy and conserve wildlife habitat to offset impacts from the redevelopment of San Diego’s Brown Field Municipal Airport. The airport — located near the Mexico border in Otay Mesa — will be redeveloped with new commercial and aviation facilities and include on-site solar energy to reduce energy consumption. The agreement enlists the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in a multi-year program to help rebuild the struggling burrowing owl population on Otay Mesa and to establish a pilot program for implementing successful repopulation of burrowing owls in other areas throughout San Diego County. The agreement also sets aside habitat off the airport for burrowing owls and protects vanishing vernal pool habitat. More here about our agreement and the beautiful Burrowing Owls.
Santa Rosa Mountain "Fuels" Treatment Project (5/1/13) - Victory!
The huge habitat clearance operation that the US Forest Service had planned for the beautiful Santa Rosa Mountain area in the San Bernardino National Forest has been cancelled! We'd like to thank the USFS for this important decision. Not only will valuable habitat be preserved, but so will the significant amount of carbon sequestered within the intact chaparral ecosystem. How it Happened: We submitted an extensive comment letter back in 2009 and made it clear we'd fight the project. The project was put "on hold" shortly thereafter. On April 29, 2013, we made a call inquiring about the project's current status. No one was available to respond so we left a message. The next day, the Forest Service changed the project's designation on their website to "Cancelled."
San Diego County attempts to avoid proper environmental review of their dead tree removal project by stating that there will be no significant environmental impacts (7/1/10) - Victory!
We convinced the County to back away from this erroneous conclusion and to conduct a full environmental impact report. For more details, please see our SD County Slash and Burn page.
San Diego County Clearance Project (3/30/10) - Victory!
On 3/4/10 the Superior Court ruled in our favor that the county violated state laws by exempting its tree removal project from public/environmental review. For more detail, please see our SD County Slash and Burn page.
Huge clearance project on the Los Padres NF (12/15/09) - Victory! We filed a lawsuit to increase public participation in national forest decisions and challenge a proposed 19,300 acre clearance project on the Los Padres National Forest. The project was dropped shortly after our court filing.
San Diego County's Vegetation Plan to clear more than 300 square miles of native habitat (3/25/09) - Victory!
After we battled the county for eight years over its attempt to clear huge swaths of native chaparral from the backcountry (in numerous hearings, letters, and a lawsuit), nature and science finally won. After one of the primary proponents of the plan retired in December 2010, the county's habitat clearance plan died a quiet death. The official reason for the plan’s cancellation was “budget constraints.” The full details are on our SD County Slash & Burn page.
Letter to Governor Newsom with 12 Policy Recommendations on Wildfire (1/11/2019) - Governor ignored the science
We were encouraged by the spirit of hope that Governor Newsom brought to Sacramento and urged him to take the lead in creating a new wildfire policy based on science rather than tradition. Why? Because the traditional approach to wildfire protection is backward. It focuses on vegetation rather than what we want to protect – our homes and families.
Unfortunately, the governor has failed to follow the science and instead embraced Cal Fire's outdated, habitat clearance model. The details can be found here.
Letter to Governor Brown Regarding His Response to Wildfires (5/16/2018) - No response from governor
The lead purpose of Governor Brown’s Executive Order of May 10, 2018 was to “Protect Communities from Wildfire.” Unfortunately, the Order’s key elements do little to protect communities at the greatest risk of destruction because the focus is on the wrong place – forests. The most devastating wildfires, including the Thomas, Tubbs, Nuns, and Atlas Fire, were many miles away from such forests. And while it is reasonable to remove hazard trees immediately adjacent to roads and homes, it makes no sense to spend millions of dollars to treat entire forests while the actual fire threat facing thousands of families occurs very far away from these forests. Our letter. Our press release issued May 16, 2018.
Eastern Goleta/Mountainous Communities CWPP (3/5/2019) - Influenced final version
The plan did a good job describing the natural fire regime in chaparral and what actually causes homes to burn (embers). The initial action plan, however, ignored these facts and the science to focus almost exclusively on wildland clearance operations. Our Aug 29, 2018 comment letter. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held a meeting to discuss the CWPP on October 2, 2018. Here is the letter we wrote in response to the Santa Barbara County Fire's presentation to the Board that mischaracterized many important issues in order to promote their vision of increasing habitat clearance operations.
The final plan approved by the SB Board of Supervisors on 3/5/1019 was an improvement over previous versions, but still emphasized vegetation clearance projects over actually reducing the flammability of communities.
Grass Valley Clearance Project (10/2018) - USFS ignored suggested improvements
We support the USFS's proposal to remove hazard trees and invasive species, and to repair damaged infrastructure from the 2007 fire in the Grass Valley area (Lake Arrowhead). We also agree that limited vegetation treatments are warranted immediately adjacent to the community. But the project's nearly exclusive focus on the clearance of native vegetation to reduce fire risk ignores the lesson’s learned from the 2007 Grass Valley Fire where 174 homes were lost despite extensive clearance projects. We objected to the project, but the USFS rejected all of our suggested improvements. Here is our comment letter.
Support SB 465: Helps Create Fire Safe Communities(9/27/2018) - Victory!
This innovative bill by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson allows property owners to finance the installation of wildfire safety improvements for their existing homes and businesses via California's PACE program. Passed the legislature and Governor Brown signed the bill September 27, 2018.
We were able to remove some of the damaging language that focused on chaparral. The law focuses on the wrong place (forests), will increase carbon emissions, will not stop large, high-intensity wildfire, is based on the "mythical open forest," and takes the "fuel-centric" approach to reducing wildfire risk that has failed us so many times in the past.
Oppose AB 2911: Expands Defensible Space to 300 Feet(9/2018) - Unfortunately passed
Assembly Bill 2911 allows officials to increase the science-based 100 feet defensible space law to 300 feet, the LENGTH of a FOOTBALL FIELD. This is irrational. It is contrary to the science. It will increase fire risk for our communities.
Cleveland National Forest Fuel Break, Santa Ana Mts (4/20/18) - Successful Input We submitted comments on this vegetation clearance project suggesting more fire safe and less environmentally damaging alternatives. Here's our comment letter on the original proposal. Here is our final comment letter on the Draft EA. The USFS considered our suggestions and as a result removed one of the proposed fuel breaks and treatments in oak woodlands were revised.
Rim Fire Reforestation Draft Environmental Statement (1/12/16) - USFS Ignored our Input To indicate, as the Purpose for the Project does, that iconic native shrub species such as manzanita are merely “brush” that only serve to prevent “tree seedlings from reaching the sun and limited water needed for establishment,” and will ultimately create “continuous woody brushfields that impede wildlife movement,” is contrary to the new US Forest Service vision and ignores most everything we know about healthy, biodiverse forest ecosystems. Here is our April 12, 2015comment letter on the scoping process. And our 1/10/2016 comment letter on the Draft EIR. USFS Land Management Plan Amendment (10/3/2014) - Successful Input
The Chaparral Institute comments on the US Forest Service 2006 land management plan amendment of 2012. Unfortunately, the USFS mischaracterized the chaparral as a "dull green," "mundane" landscape that impedes the public's enjoyment of the natural landscape. Our letter can be found here.
An official Objection Hearing was held in each of the four southern California National Forests. We testified at the Objection Hearing in Santa Barbara on July 17, 2014.
The USFS issued its final decision on October 3, 2014. The USFS incorporated many of our suggested changes.
Santa Barbara County Goleta Valley Community Plan (10/2/14) - Successful Input We submitted comments urging land planners in Santa Barbara County to include chaparral as an environmentally sensitive habitat. Here's our letter. We also testified to the SB County Fish and Wildlife Commission on 11/20/14 to not send a letter opposing such action. The Commission submitted an opposing letter, filled with scientific inaccuracies. We followed up with a response, pointing those out those errors. The Commission's chair has since been replaced and the Commission's membership has become more progressive.
Salvage Logging Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the Rim Fire salvage logging project(9/16/2014) - Rejected on appeal, but scope of project reduced The federal judge who was given the case, rejected our TRO. We appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court and lost. As a consequence, the habitat destruction that will be caused by the salvage logging project will proceed in the Stanislaus National Forest. However, due to our efforts and those of our partners, we were able to reduce the scope of the salvage logging as originally proposed. For more information, please see our Post-Fire Environment page.
Mt. Laguna/Pine Valley Vegetation Clearing Project (1/8/14) - Successful Input
The US Forest Service issues plan to grind up and burn 1,111 acres of chaparral near the town of Pine Valley despite new research that concludes after studying 700,000 addresses that buildings on steep slopes, in Santa Ana wind corridors and in low-density developments intermingled with wild lands were the most likely to have burned during a ten year period. Nearby vegetation was not a big factor in home destruction. For a full description of the research by Dr. Alexandra Syphard, please see our Protecting Your Home page.
USFS issued a final decision on our objection on 1/8/14.Although we are extremely pleased with the project's modification (eliminating nearly 1,000 acres of chaparral clearance), we are still concerned over the clearance of habitat in some areas of Mt. Laguna.
Arbor Day Foundation Didn't Understand Chaparral (8/15/13) - Victory! The Arbor Day Foundation had mischaracterized the chaparral-dominated Los Padres National forest as being "comprised of redwood, mixed conifer, and oak woodlands," and claimed they want to "help restore critical areas in southern California that could be lost to invasive fire-prone brush." After repeated communications with the Foundation and the Los Padres National Forest, the Foundation removed their mischaracterization from their website. More details on our blog. Also, here is our comment letter to the USFS.
San Felipe Valley Escaped Prescribed Burn (5/3/13) - CA Fish & Wildlife denied ecological damage occurred With the approval of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cal Fire started a 100 acre "prescribed" burn within the protected San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area which is just east of the mountain town of Julian in San Diego County. The fire escaped and proceeded to burn more than 2,700 acres of fragile habitat within the protected area. We are conducting research to assess the damage. More information about this can be found at the bottom of our Prescribed Fire page.
Santa Barbara County reconsidered their "Brushing" ordinance (5/15/11) - Successful Input
We remain deeply concerned over the unnecessary removal of native chaparral habitat in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara. As a result, we provided input to the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors who approved the stop gap amendment to make their brushing ordinance enforceable and create an appeals process. While they also agreed that "brush removal permits" under the ordinance must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), CEQA review would be limited to issues relating to erosion because that is what the ordinance addresses (not habitat, wildlife, etc.). We obviously still have work to do to protect habitat in Santa Barbara County from uncontrolled disturbance. The Santa Barbara based Environmental Defense Center and the Urban Creeks Council are spearheading this effort. Here's our comment letter.
USFS planting trees in the Angeles NF without considering impacts (4/11/11) - Too late to prevent damage We learned from reliable sources within the USFS that major concerns raised by USFS staff about a tree planting project in the Angeles National Forest have been ignored due to agency pressure to “plant trees.” It also appears as if trees were planted based on seedling availability, grants, and institutional inertia rather than sound ecological planning. This is not how public lands should be managed. We continue to analyze the information we have received from our Freedom of Information request, however the damage has been done. The results of the project were predictable. Here is a good summary of the project's failure in an article by Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times.
Monterey County CWPP (Community Wildfire Protection Plan) (5/21/10) - Victory!
We were able to convince the County to remove the most egregious language and misconceptions about chaparral from the document that would have led to the unnecessary destruction of the region's native shrublands. The County's Plan
Merriam Mountains Development Project (3/24/10) - Victory! The poorly planned Merriam Mountains development proposed for the northern part of San Diego County that would have destroyed more than 2,000 acres of chaparral, was rejected by the SD County Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote. Our Comment Letter
Lake Hodges Community Fire Protection Plan (3/5/10) - Successful Input On of the few CWPPs that we have seen that addresses the entire fire risk reduction equation rather than just focusingon the removal of native vegetation. Lake Hodges CWPP
Destruction of Fragile Post-fire Habitats in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park (8/3/2009) - Too late to stop the damage California State Parks and the managers at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park violated both the intent and the spirit of California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They used a legal loophole, one that was declared invalid by the court in a similar situation, to avoid conducting a thorough analysis of a major habitat altering "reforestation" project that has had significant environmental impacts. The consequence is that state park managers will be able to drastically alter thousands of acres of fragile post-fire habitat without public oversight. More here.