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Court allows feds to thin forest near Frazier Park

A federal judge ruled Thursday in favor of allowing the federal government to proceed with a forest-thinning project in the Frazier Park area that preservationists argued should be delayed until an adequate environmental review can be done.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh found that a full environmental review was not necessary under a federal exemption allowing expedited analysis by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sara Ghafouri, an attorney with the American Forest Resource Council, which intervened on behalf of the Forest Service, said in a news release the ruling supports public land managers' ability to improve forest health.

"As California continues to face severe and devastating wildfires, it is important for public agencies to quickly take action to mitigate these extreme risks to people, homes and our public lands," Ghafouri wrote.

An appeal has since been filed by the plaintiff, Mountain Communities for Fire Safety, which was joined by Los Padres ForestWatch and the John Muir Project.

The groups' lawsuit is one of two legal actions aimed at preserving trees on a combined total of 2,800 acres near Frazier Park ranging between 3,000 and 6,000 feet in altitude. The other lawsuit was also defeated in district court and is under appeal before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

An attorney representing Los Padres ForestWatch, Rebecca August, said by email that commercial logging in the area would cause irreparable harm to important habitat and that focusing wildfire resources there "diverts resources away from communities that need it most."

The Forest Service, defended in court by AFRC, the California Forestry Association and Associated California Loggers, says many trees in the area are dead and dying and should be removed to reduce risks of wildfire.

But conservationists say more the government should instead create defensible spaces around structures, retrofit homes with fire-safe materials and enhance early-warning and evacuation systems.