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Ecological restoration project would reintroduce prescribed burns to the Los Padres National Forest

Flickr member Damian Gadal

An ecological restoration project is proposed for Los Padres National Forest, which the Forest Service hopes will return the land to more sustainable and effective fire management practices. The proposal would reintroduce prescribed burning to more than 230,000 acres of forest in Kern, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

The Forest Service this week held two virtual meetings on Monday and today for people to submit public comment and ask questions about how forest officials would manage restoration and wildfire management.

Dessa Dale is the Environmental Project Manager for DJ&A, an environmental consulting firm working with the Forest Service on this project. She ran Monday’s virtual meeting and showed maps of the areas that would be affected in this proposal, emphasizing that prescribed burning would only happen in key areas that would help minimize uncontrolled wildfires — not in the remote wilderness, where they would be hard to control.

“Treatments would not occur in wilderness," she said.

In response to a question about what types of trees would be affected, forester Greg Thompson said Monday that the Forest Service would not be completely removing or burning all the trees in any area of forest.

“We don’t want to come in there and take out all the smaller trees, because we want these trees in the future to grow," he said.

Thompson said that’s why they won’t completely raze these parts of the forest. He says it’s important to preserve the understory, which is made up of vegetation like trees and shrubs that form the layer between the ground cover and the forest canopy.

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Los Padres National Forest
Dessa Dale is the Environmental Project Manager for DJ&A, an environmental consulting firm working with the Forest Service on this project. She ran Monday's meeting and showed maps of the various districts within the forest that would be affected.

Besides fire concerns, Thompson said the understory is also an important habitat for animals.

“We’re not just coming in there and removing all the understory, because I think that’s counterproductive for some of our other wildlife goals as well.”

Dale said prescribed burning in the Los Padres National Forest has long historical roots. It was a common practice by indigenous tribes, and she says it helped prevent destructive wildfires there.

“[It] also provided resilience to drought, insect and disease, and played an important role in moderating fire behaviors," Dale said.

The goal of this project, Dale said, is to try to bring back the forest closer to the level of health it used to enjoy. But as with any project introducing potential risk to the landscape, public comment is a necessary part of the process.

“Part of why we’re doing this scoping is to really get input from all of you, [to] see how we can make this project better and also be aware of any concerns."

The public comment period for the Ecological Restoration Project ends on August 28, and the Forest Service is accepting input on their website and by mail to their Solvang office. The Monday August 8 meeting recording is available online now, and the Forest Service says the recording from tonight is expected to post within a few days.

Benjamin Purper came to KCBX in May of 2021 from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.