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Save the Sespe Petition Draws 2,000 Supporters
A controversial proposal to frack the Sespe wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest sparked a massive petition effort by local residents concerned about high-risk oil and gas drilling near the federally-protected wilderness area.
Nearly 2,000 petitions and signatures were submitted to the U.S. Forest Service this week in opposition to a controversial fracking proposal in the Sespe backcountry near Ojai.
The petition effort was started by an Ojai native, Leif Dautch, after the Forest Service announced that a Texas oil company, Seneca Resources Corporation, had requested a permit to frack 8 new oil and gas wells in the Sespe.
Dautch, who currently serves as a deputy attorney general for the California Department of Justice, grew up hiking and camping in the area. “With my connection to the Sespe, the issue was deeply personal for me, and I knew something had to be done,” said Dautch.
Given documented concerns about water and air contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, increased seismic activity, and water depletion, Dautch enlisted the help of two Bay Area friends, Colin Cotter and Bill Barnes, to launch the petition.
Cotter, a musician and website developer at Larchmont Digital, designed the website (http://www.SavetheSespe.com), while Dautch and Barnes – a political strategist with 15 years of experience in state and local politics – developed the content and reached out to community environmental groups for advice and support.
The response was overwhelming. Over 800 people signed the petition in the first 48 hours, with 1100 more adding their names over the next week. But “more inspiring than the sheer quantity of the signatures,” Dautch said, “were the personal stories people shared about their own connection to the Sespe.” Supporters included a local Chumash woman who explained the tribal significance of the Sespe, one of the last known habitats for grizzly bears in California. Another signature came from an Oregon man whose wife grew up hiking in the Sespe and who wanted them to experience the trails and streams together before the area’s natural beauty was compromised.
With these signatures and stories in hand, the Save the Sespe team sat down this week for a series of meetings with Forest Service officials and congressional staffers from the offices of Rep. Julia Brownley and Rep. Lois Capps. While the Brownley and Capps meetings were encouraging, the group walked away from the Forest Service headquarters appreciating the enormity of the task ahead. “It’s certainly an uphill battle against federal bureaucracy and agency capture, but it’s a fight worth having,” said Cotter.
Nonetheless, the Save the Sespe team is confident that the outpouring of community opposition to fracking in the Sespe will play a significant role in the Forest Service’s assessment of Seneca's proposal. The group plans to work with other environmental watchdogs like Los Padres ForestWatch and CFROG (Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas) to ensure that their concerns are addressed by the Forest Service and, for the first time, a comprehensive environmental impact statement is prepared to study the impacts of fracking in the Sespe. As Dautch stated, “The Forest Service’s motto is ‘Caring for the Land and Serving People.’ That’s all we’re asking them to do.”
The Save the Sespe team delivers petitions to the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Goleta