LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT INCREASES WILDLIFE PROTECTION.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - Environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service have settled a lawsuit that will require continued closure of the Littlerock off-roading area, along with new steps to protect California condors, arroyo southwestern toads and other endangered species.
The settlement involving the four Southern California national forests - Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino - was welcomed by both sides in hopes of improving habitat for wildlife.
``It's a good first step. We're hoping for many more steps to come,'' said Peter Galvin, a conservation biologist for the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, which filed suit in 1998.
``The Southern California national forests are 6.1 million acres of some of the last best open space in Southern California, and it's very important they receive the protection they need because it's a last refuge for wildlife.''
In off-roading events permitted by the Forest Service - such as the annual Rim of the World Rally - vehicles will be required under the settlement to use antifreeze other than common ethylene glycol, which has poisoned condors released in the Los Padres National Forest.
The settlement also requires the Forest Service to halt construction of the Alder Saddle off-highway vehicle trail around Alder Creek near Upper Big Tujunga Road. The ban is meant to protect the arroyo southwestern toad, an endangered species for which off-roading was halted last year near Littlerock Reservoir.
The closure, which forest officials previously said would last until at least 2003 to allow biologists time to map out toad habitats, will continue until the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan is amended, officials said. The agreement sets a 2002 deadline for amending forest plans, which are updated every 15 years and guide use of the land.
The revised plan for Littlerock could call for ending or extending the closure or for a range of other options, officials say.
Environmentalists filed the lawsuit to block some activities in national forests until the Forest Service's plans comply with the Endangered Species Act. Forest officials said they will continue efforts that began when the lawsuit was filed in 1998 and take additional measures.
``The center brought to our attention several areas of concern which need to be addressed,'' said Brad Powell, Pacific Southwest regional forester for the Forest Service. ``As a result, we are developing an aggressive strategy to improve wildlife habitat and be more sensitive to the needs of various species.''
Among the 15 threatened or endangered species living in the Angeles National Forest are the arroyo southwestern toad, the bald eagle, the slender-horned spineflower and the unarmored three-spine stickleback, a tiny fish that lives in the Santa Clara River. Nine of those species were added to the protected list in the last 10 years.
Under the agreement, the Forest Service will take a range of short-term measures to protect wildlife and will begin work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department on long-term plans.
Among the initial measures are steps to protect the California condor, including installing anti-perching devices on microwave towers and discontinuing the use of poisonous antifreeze in Forest Service vehicles.
The Forest Service will determine where the condors fly in the Angeles National Forest, believed mostly to be around Pyramid Lake in its northwestern corner.
The Forest Service will also increase its surveys for other endangered species, such as the arroyo southwestern toad and the red-legged frog.
- Staff Writer Charles F. Bostwick contributed to this story.
photo, box, map
Photo: (color) ARROYO SOUTHWESTERN TOAD
Box: FOREST CLOSURE
Map: (color) Area closed
Bradford Mar/Staff Artist