More wilderness designations in L.A.? Yes, please!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
John Monsen

[This is a version of a story that originally ran in Words of the Wild, the newsletter of the Sierra Club's California/Nevada Wilderness Committee.]

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA27) in June introduced a San Gabriel National Recreation Area bill, H.R. 4858, in the House of Representatives The new recreation area would include the San Gabriel Mountains, the San Gabriel River and adjacent river corridors south of the Angeles National Forest, and the Puente Hills wildlife corridor that provides a link with the Cleveland National Forest. The proposed recreation area would include 615,000 acres of national forest, including the main section of the Angeles National Forest east of  Highway 14 and the San Bernardino National Forest west of Interstate 15. These areas are visited by an estimated 4 million visitors a year.

The bill advances one of the key goals of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign: establishment of a huge recreation area to serve the urban populations concentrated in the Los Angeles Basin. It does not address the second main goal of protecting wilderness. The campaign supports the designation of 122,000 acres of wilderness and the creation of 64 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers. The campaign’s wilderness proposal includes additions to the existing San Gabriel, Sheep Mountain, and Cucamonga Wilderness areas plus two new wilderness areas. The two new proposed areas are the Condor Peak (18,000 acres) and the Castaic Mountains (70,000). (Visit http://www.sangabrielmountains.org/place for descriptions of the proposed wilderness areas and Wild & Scenic Rivers.

The Wilderness Act celebrates its 50th Birthday on Sept. 3. The Act has been immensely successful in creating over 750 wilderness areas protecting over 100 million acres of federal land public land in the United States -- and its impact continues to grow.  Come “Celebrate the Wild” at a special program and party at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena on Wednesday, September 24.

The featured speaker is former Sierra Club staffer and wilderness expert Jim Blomquist who will tell the inspirational story behind the creation of the Wilderness Act and the major impact it has made on the American landscape. Representatives of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign, Fabiola Lao and John Monsen will tell you how you can help add the legacy of the Wilderness Act in the San Gabriel Mountains.  

A reception open to public at begins at 7 p.m. followed by the program at 7:30 and the party at 8:30.  To receive update on wilderness efforts in the San Gabriel Mountains follow the Forest Committee on Facebook.

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign is working with its legislative champions for introduction of wilderness legislation, perhaps later this year, as a companion to the national recreation area bill. Many of the campaign’s proposed wilderness areas feature chaparral ecosystems that have come to be much more appreciated over the last 20 years through the work of Rick Halsey and others who have highlighted the ecological values of chaparral areas.

Sierra Club volunteers and former national field staffer Juana Torres, right, in the Condor Peak Proposed
Wilderness Area. Photo by John Monsen

The new recreation area would have two units with the forests being managed by the Forest Service and the other lands south of the forests managed by the National Park Service. There would be one management plan with the National Park Service being asked to share resources and expertise with the Forest Service to improve recreational and environmental conditions in the forest, most especially in the concentrated use areas along the San Gabriel River. The bill would require an extensive visitor services plan. The U.S. Forest Service and NPS would be partners in this effort.

“Representative Chu's legislation is an important step forward in a decades-long effort to preserve open space and increase access to nature across the Southland,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) after introduction of the bill. Schiff and Congressman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) are among the bill’s co-sponsors. The new legislation includes public land in both of their districts.  

Proposal spreads through different districts

The politics of creating a national recreation are complex since, in addition to Schiff and Cardenas’s districts, the proposed area covers significant land in five other congressional districts, two of which are Republican. Southern California features hundreds of national recreation area stakeholders with political clout-- including scores of foothill cities, Los Angeles County, water and fire agencies, utilities, chambers of commerce, regional associations of government, recreational user groups and many others who are eager to voice an opinion.

The campaign has played an important role in the national recreation area legislative effort, explaining the recreation area concept to stakeholders and soliciting their support.  The San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition gains its strength from a diverse group of partners including the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, the City Project, PEW Environmental Trusts, Amigos De Los Rios, Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM) and other community, social justice and environmental organizations.

Sierra Club’s Los Angeles-based national field staffers Nidia Erceg and Fabi Lao work full time on the campaign which also enjoys the support of volunteers from local Sierra Club groups such as the Angeles Chapter’s Forest Committee. Visit YouTube to see an excellent video on Backyard Wilderness in Los Angeles.

The politics of wilderness legislation are complex, similar to those of the recreation area. Although passage of recreation area and wilderness legislation will be challenging in the short run, the effort has now been officially launched--a vital first step. Check out more information on the legislation.

A new national monument?

One option being advanced by the Sierra Club is to ask the Administration to declare the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. This might achieve many objectives of a national recreation area with the advantage of not having to pass through Congress. Such a national monument would only cover the federal public land in the national forests. Legislation covering the river corridors and Puente-Chino Hills, wilderness and Wild & Scenic rivers would still be needed.

Stay tuned for more updates on L.A.'s potential wilderness designations.

John Monsen is a wilderness consultant to the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign and volunteer supporter as Co-Chair of the Angeles Chapter’s Forest Committee. He is currently meeting with stakeholders of the Condor Peak PWA to build support for the area. John was formerly on the Sierra Club National Field staff in Los Angeles where he worked on the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign.


Let's make this happen. The San Gabriel Mountains are a real treasure and it is right in our own backyard. I just hope this designation will bring some protection for the wildlife both plant and animal.

I am appalled that the 'coalition' would cave in to the idea of a National Monument declaration, thus abandoning 10 years of work and dozens of constituent groups who have worked hard for the proposed San Gabriel National Recreation Area Act. National Monument status will do nothing to relieve the urban pressure to "love the mountains to death"; it would do nothing for the cities along the flood plain of the San Gabriel River; it will do next to nothing to protect the streams in the mountains. The 'coalition' needs to stick to the original plan, and then fight for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic legislation.

John Tobin
Conservation Chair, Pasadena Casting Club

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