California Environmental Groups Sue Forest Service To Block Fuel Reduction in Big Bear

Several environmental groups, including the Friends of Big Bear Valley, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, have filed suit against the US Forest Service in an effort to block fuel reduction in the San Bernardino National Forest, and more specifically in the vicinity of Big Bear. The suit was filed in US District Court for the Central District of California.

The fuel reduction project, referred to as the North Big Bear Landscape Restoration Project, seeks to reduce fuel load to protect adjacent communities and improve forest health. The USFS concluded that the pine forest in the area is “unnaturally and excessively dense” in part due to the success of fire suppression efforts that minimized the impact of natural fires.

The suit claims the project “(1) violates the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and its implementing regulations; (2) violates the USFS’s objection regulations, and (3) violates the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”) and its implementing regulations.”

KABC Channel 7 quoted John Muir Project spokesperson Chad Hanson as saying:

  • The problem is that the approach the Forest Service is taking.
  • Using big machines to cut down tens of thousands of trees out in the remote wildlands, as opposed to focusing on the homes themselves and the zone immediately around the homes.
  • That makes all the difference in terms of whether homes survive or not.
  • When they remove a lot of trees it actually makes the fire burn faster through those areas, and that often times is toward towns.

The lawsuit claims the Forest Service plans to use prescribed burns to clear up to 2,000 acres, some of which will impact wetlands.

KABC quoted from Forest Service documentation that says:

  • Over 100 years of fire suppression activities on the San Bernardino National Forest have excluded fire from much of the landscape, resulting in a departure from the natural range of variation and the pre-settlement fire return interval.
  • Fires that burn in stands with high amounts of surface fuels ignite ladder fuels, which allows fire to reach tree crowns, resulting in increased flame lengths and fire behavior intensity.
  • These increased fuels make fire suppression efforts more difficult, limit firefighter effectiveness, and put private property, infrastructure and natural resources at greater risk for damage and loss.

Here is a copy of the case.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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