Thursday, July 15, 2004
Condor Study Delays Forest Plan Review
The California condor could prevent future oil and natural gas exploration in the Los Padres National Forest because of its status as an endang ered species. An assessment of possible harm by drilling is under review with the US Fish & Wildlife Service—part of a periodic revision of the management plan for the Los Padres National Forest.
Al Hess, oil and gas manager for the Los Padres National Forest, says that other species, such as certain frogs, are also potentially affected, but the condor “is probably the one with the highest degree of interest.”
Hess says an opinion from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, due last month, is now expected in late fall.
The Los Padres National Forest covers two million acres of public land—a northern half, around Big Sur that includes the Ventana Wilderness, and a southern half in the mountains from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara. There has been some interest in known oil and gas locations on Los Padres land near King City, but Hess says the emphasis remains in the Forest’s southern section.
Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wilderness Society, says drilling near condor breeding areas has caused concern in the past. Two years ago, Sorenson says, a breeding adult condor living near an oil-drilling area came back to its nest with oil on
“We were concerned because it was feeding a chick at the time,” he says.
“The bottom line is if we allow oil and gas leasing around condor breeding areas,” he says, “I’d expect some effect, either direct or indirect.”
In other US Forest Service news, a Bush administration proposal to turn back Clinton-era protections of roadless areas in National Forests should not affect the Los Padres.
Although there is an unprotected roadless area near San Luis Obispo that might be explored for oil and natural gas, there are virtually no plans for road construction in any California roadless areas, according to Matt Mathes, Forest Service spokesman. Although there are areas eligible for new roads on the fringes of the Ventana Wilderness, new roads are a very long shot.
“We wouldn’t do anything in the Ventana,” Mathes says. “There’s no timber there and no oil or gas, so there’s no reason to build roads. There’s simply no compelling reason we’d build a road in roadless areas in the Big Sur.”