Los Padres forest species to get help

Twenty-seven rare and endangered species in Los Padres National Forest — many of them found in San Luis Obispo County — will receive increased protections as a result of an order last week by a federal judge.

Species affected by the ruling include the California condor, Smith’s blue butterfly, arroyo toad, southern steelhead trout and Camatta Canyon amole, a plant found only in the La Panza Range of San Luis Obispo County.

The arroyo toad is found primarily in Southern California but populations have also been found in the upper Salinas River area of San Luis Obispo County. The Camatta Canyon amole is found in two locations in the La Panza Range, east of Santa Margarita.

The condor is one of the Central Coast’s iconic species and is struggling to recover from a low of only 28 birds in the 1980s. Steelhead trout are found in many of the coastal streams in the area but in numbers well below historic levels.

“Rivers and streams in our national forests provide some of our region’s best remaining habitat for endangered steelhead trout, and today’s decision will complement ongoing efforts to restore the health of our local creeks, while ensuring clean water for local farms, businesses and our families,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres Forest Watch, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Forest Service.

Andrew Madsen, a Los Padres Forest spokesman, said the agency’s regional office is still reviewing the ruling to determine its impact. He noted that similar previous rulings have resulted in the closure of campgrounds and other popular recreational facilities.

“Whenever there is this kind of decision, there is a flip side,” he said.

One closure ordered in the ruling is the Cherry Creek recreational shooting area along Highway 33 in Ventura County, which frequently has a litter problem and has been the ignition point for six recent wildfires. The closure will stay in effect until the Forest Service updates biological assessments and other reviews.

The ruling stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by Forest Watch and four other environmental groups challenging the adequacy of endangered species protections found in management plans updated in 2005 for the Los Padres and three national forests in Southern California. The sprawling Los Padres forest includes federal lands in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Under the ruling, the Forest Service has six months to implement a variety of measures, including limits on incidental take of endangered species as well as requirements for additional mitigation, monitoring and reporting.

In addition to the Forest Watch group, other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the California Native Plant Society. In addition to the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service were defendants in the case.