Forestland in SLO County likely to remain roadless

More than 52,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest land in San Luis Obispo County could be more likely to remain roadless as a result of a court settlement announced Wednesday.

The agreement calls for the Forest Service, state agencies and groups that use the Forest Service lands to work together to prevent road building on a total of 900,000 acres in four national forests in Central and Southern California, including Los Padres.

“Today’s agreement brings us one step closer toward securing the permanent protection of our region’s wild places,” said Jeff Kuyper, director of Los Padres Forest Watch, a Santa Barbara-based conservation group.

As the name implies, roadless areas are places into which no roads have been built. They lack the stringent restrictions of wilderness areas but still provide wildlife habitat, sources of clean water and other ecological benefits.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit by various environmental groups challenging updates to land management plans for the Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests. The court ruled that the updates lacked sufficient roadless-area protection and monitoring.

“No one is talking about building any roads, but the ruling is an additional safeguard,” said Andrew Madsen, Los Padres National Forest spokesman.

Much of the Los Padres land affected by the ruling is in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. However, 52,865 acres within the Santa Lucia Ranger District in San Luis Obispo County are included, Kuyper said.

Of that land, 36,923 acres will be considered for wilderness designation. It is in three areas: 16,830 acres in the Black Mountain area, 20 miles northeast of San Luis Obispo; 12,245 acres in the Machesna Mountain area, 20 miles east of San Luis Obispo; and 7,848 acres in the Garcia Mountain area, 13 miles east of Arroyo Grande.

An additional 15,942 acres in the La Panza and Los Machos Hills areas will receive interim roadless-area restrictions, Kuyper said. The agreement is awaiting approval by federal district court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.