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Groups file appeal to halt Los Padres Forest oil drilling 

In two separate actions, three Central California conservation groups and the state attorney general's office filed appeals to challenge the U.S. Forest Service's recent decision to expand oil drilling in the Los Padres National Forest.

The Forest Service in July approved oil drilling for more than 52,000 acres in the Central Coast forest, mostly near existing drilling sites in Cuyama, on the Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County border, and Ventura.

The conservation groups - Los Padres ForestWatch, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity - assert that the drilling decision threatens recreation areas, wild lands, water, air, and endangered species habitat. The organizations' Sept. 16 appeal contends that the Forest Service relied on data from a 13-year-old report that said new drilling would impact only 20 acres of the forest.

"The Los Padres National Forest is already contributing its fair share of oil development to the nation," Los Padres ForestWatch's Jeff Kuyper said in a statement. "Our communities should not have to sacrifice even more of our clean water, scenic vistas, and recreation opportunities for less than a day's supply of oil."

According to Kathy Good, Los Padres public affairs officer, a federal law passed in 1987 directed federal agencies, the Forest Service included, to study areas of public lands that could be used for oil development. The Los Padres study began in 1995 and yielded the July 28 decision.

Good noted that while some 5,200 acres will be made available for leasing and development, the forest supervisor had to examine a total of 767,000 acres for potential oil and gas drilling. Those were the areas not already withdrawn from potential drilling within the forest's nearly 2 million acres.

According to the environmental groups, the Forest Service has 45 days to formally respond to the appeal, which is the last step before a lawsuit can be filed against the federal government.

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