There are now about 4,900 acres leased for oil and gas development in the Los Padres National Forest, and under a decision this summer by Los Padres Supervisor Gloria Brown an additional 52,000 acres of the forest would be open to oil and gas development. But the new surface drilling, power lines and roads would be limited to 4,000 acres, and the remaining 48,000 would be open only for underground directional or slant drilling. Even if all the new acres are leased, only about 21 acres would be disturbed through the construction of well pads, drills, access roads and pipelines, Forest Service officials said. “I reached this decision after a great deal of thought and careful consideration of public input,” Brown said. “I feel that it provides for the protection of ecological values that are so important to the American public, while still offering a portion of our oil and gas potential to the nation.” She said the disturbance would decrease over time and the land would be rehabilitated when the oil and gas activities cease. But environmentalists are skeptical and oppose new oil and gas development, particularly near the sanctuary areas for the endangered California condor. The new areas open to oil and gas leasing are primarily hills to the north of the Santa Clara River Valley and in the Sierra Madre foothills south of Cuyama, where the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary was once used as a site for releasing the birds back into the wild. Defenders of Wildlife, Los Padres ForestWatch of Santa Barbara, and the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity filed the appeal. They say forest officials relied on outdated reports to assess the potential harm to the environment from more oil development. The three conservation groups said forest drilling would threaten pristine creeks, spoil scenic vistas and harm wildlife. “The agency’s plan requires a vast network of roads, pipelines and transmission wires that will cut through the heart of some of the most sensitive areas of the forest, including key habitat for the critically endangered California condor,” said Defenders of Wildlife spokeswoman Kim Delfino. Good said the Los Padres National Forest, extending from the Big Sur coast down to the Los Angeles County line, contains about 1.76 million acres. She said Forest Service officials would not endanger the California condor with any of their new plans, which stress the endangered bird’s protection and protection of urban areas from wildfires. “Protecting the condors is very, very high on our list of priorities, and we work very closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the condors and other endangered species are protected,” she said. The plan recommends that many areas be restricted from motorized access, but officials also want to maintain their options for accessing parts of the forest to prevent catastrophic wildfires, they said. “We may need to have road access, but the emphasis would be on temporary access. We don’t anticipate any aggressive road building in any of the forests,” Good said. Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres Forest Watch, said the new Forest Service plan does not provide for enough new wilderness areas. “We see the Forest Service using public fear surrounding fire as a scapegoat instead of providing true wilderness protection,” Kuyper said. “I think it is important for people concerned about our forest to attend these open houses. We were hoping that with the new plan the forests would have been better protected, but it appears the Forest Service is going in the opposite direction.” The group’s biggest criticism is it sees the new forest plans as vague, failing to set clear guidelines. Members believe it will be difficult for the Forest Service to follow the plan and difficult for the public to determine whether the agency is following it. “We were hoping the new plan would provide more protection for the condor,” Kuyper said. “It remains to be seen how the new plan will affect the condor, but the agency fell far short of our expectations. Protection of the condor habitat should be the utmost priority. Instead it’s taking the back seat to oil drilling and other activities.” The Associated Press contributed to this story. Eric Leach, (805) 583-7602 [email protected] IF YOU GO Open houses to provide information on the new long-range plan for the Los Padres National Forest are scheduled at the following locations: Ventura: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the Avenue Adult Center, 550 N. Ventura Ave. Goleta: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Los Padres National Forest headquarters conference room, 6755 Hollister Ave., Raytheon Building, Suite 150. Frazier Park: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the Community Center, 300 Park Drive. The plan can be viewed at www.fs.fed.us/r5/scfpr. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Environmental groups and political leaders, including members of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, have voiced opposition recently to Forest Service plans to expand oil drilling in the Los Padres area, and a lawsuit was filed this month to block wilderness road construction nationwide. Although the oil drilling proposal and lawsuit over road building are separate from the new Los Padres plan, they all relate to the same issues regarding how the forest will be used. Kathy Good, a spokeswoman for the Los Padres forest said new plans for all Southern California forests have been under development since 2001 and the open houses this month will give the public a chance to learn about and discuss the conclusions. “These are the final plans. These plans will provide for over-arching strategic guidance for the next 10 to 15 years,” Good said. “The oil and gas study was a separate study. It began about 10 yers ago and concluded this year. The oil and gas decision is an amendment to our existing forest plan and it will be rolled over into the new forest plan.” VENTURA – Facing controversy over oil drilling, roads in wilderness areas and heightened brush fire concerns, the U.S. Forest Service is revising plans for the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County. Because the Los Padres is home to the California condor, the plans are of particular interest to environmentalists who say protecting the endangered bird should be a top priority. Some say they are concerned that Forest Service officials are using growing fears about brush fires in Southern California as an excuse for building roads in what should be wilderness areas. Forest Service officials scheduled an open house for Monday in Ventura to help people learn about their recently completed land management plan for the Los Padres area, including ideas for protecting housing developments near the forest from catastrophic wildfires.