Wilderness Watch has filed a formal Objection with Los Padres ForestWatch to stop the Forest Service from building permanent, artificial firelines inside the Ventana Wilderness and allow the Wilderness to restore its wilderness character. The 237,000-acre Ventana Wilderness straddles the Santa Lucia Mountains south of the Monterey Peninsula in the Big Sur country of southern California. All but 720 acres lie in the Los Padres National Forest and are managed by the Forest Service. Originally designated as Wilderness in 1969, Congress has added more land to the Ventana Wilderness four additional times—in 1978, 1984, 1992, and 2002.
Fire has had a frequent presence in the Ventana Wilderness, as it has in many Wildernesses. Congress included special language in several of the additions bills allowing the Forest Service to conduct some “pre-suppression” activities in those wilderness additions to keep fires from burning outside the Wilderness.
The Forest Service, in its Draft Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Strategic Community Fuelbreak Improvement Project in the Ventana Wilderness, proposes to re-establish and permanently maintain 10.4 miles of “fuelbreaks” or firelines within the Wilderness. To its credit, the agency proposes to not use bulldozers to reconstruct the fuelbreaks, but it would allow chainsaws and other motorized tools to build the fuelbreaks. But there are no guarantees bulldozers won’t be called in again when the next fire occurs.
Fuelbreaks are often ineffective in stopping fires. The 2016 Soberanes Fire in this Wilderness, for example, “spotted” or jumped ahead a mile and a half in front of the flames, a much greater distance than the width of the firelines. Research shows the best way to protect structures is to control vegetation and other flammable products near the structure.
Wilderness Watch believes the Forest Service first and foremost should act to protect the wilderness character of the Ventana Wilderness, particularly when research shows that fuelbreaks are often ineffective, and that fireproofing homes is really only effective when reducing flammable materials in the immediate vicinity of those structures.
Wilderness Watch supports Alternative 1, the No Action Alternative. We have been urging the agency to focus fire prevention measures on the structure protection zone (usually within 100 feet of homes and other structures) where it is most effective. We made the following points in our comments and Objection:
Photo: S. Rae via flickr