History and Successes
The Angeles and San Gorgonio Chapters of the Sierra Club joined together in 2001 to form the Santa Ana Mountains Task Force (SAMTF) to work on conservation issues in the Cleveland National Forest. SAMTF focuses on the Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest as the heart of its area of interest, but some private lands adjoining the Forest are included when appropriate. During its first decade, SAMTF has been successful on several fronts:
SAMTF has continuously opposed proposals by Riverside and Orange Counties to build a freeway/tunnel through the Trabuco District to alleviate traffic congestion on the SR 91, the so-called Irvine-Corona Expressway (ICE). In 2008 and 2009, SAMTF joined the Angeles and San Gorgonio Chapters, the San Bernardino Audubon Society, and the Residents Association of the Greater Lake Mathews Area to oppose Riverside County’s proposal to build the Mid-County Parkway, an east-west highway from San Jacinto to Corona. This project would clearly only have made sense if it connected to the ICE, but this was not mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Mid-County Parkway, among many other deficiencies. Our coalition hired the law firm of Shute, Mihaley, and Weinberger and traffic and air quality experts to prepare detailed comments documenting the flaws of the DEIR and demanding full compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. In addition, our organization at the grassroots level was responsible for motivating many of the over 3,100 comments submitted on the DEIR. As a result of our efforts, the Riverside County Transportation Commission voted in July 2009 to withdraw its plans for the most environmental destructive, western portion of the proposed project.
SAMTF has opposed a plan by the Nevada Hydro Company and the Lake Elsinore Municipal Water District to build a pumped storage reservoir (Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumped Storage Project) in the Cleveland National Forest immediately adjacent to the San Mateo Wilderness and a 500 kV electric power transmission line that would traverse a large segment of the Forest. This reservoir would threaten residents as far as San Juan Capistrano with flooding if the dam, located near the junction of two earthquake faults, should fail. The transmission line through the Forest would increase fire risks and, along with the dam, negatively impact wildlife and scenic vistas. We won an important victory against this project, when on March 6, 2009, the administrative law judge presiding over the application of the The Nevada Hydro Company for a California Public Utilities Commission license to build the transmission line through the Trabuco District issued a decision to the full commission that the application was not complete and should be rejected.
SAMTF participated in the Forest Management Plan Update process for the four southern California National Forests, including the Cleveland National Forest in 2001-2004. However, when the new Forest Management Plans were completed in 2005, they were woefully inadequate in protecting endangered species and roadless areas in the Forests. We therefore joined together with the Center for Biological Diversity and others in a lawsuit against the Management Plans. Our suit was successful in 2009, when Judge Patel cited the potential impact on roadless areas as a key factor in her decision to overturn the new management plans.
Our trail maintenance program is one of SAMTF’s great ongoing successes. There’s little money in the Forest Service budget for maintaining hiking trails, so they depend on dedicated volunteers like ours. Once a month during the cooler seasons SAMTF volunteers work on everything from lopping weeds to rebuilding water-damaged sections of trails. Volunteers of all levels of experience and abilities are welcome.
SAMTF supported the “Save the Saints Campaign” of The Wildlands Conservancy and the San Bernardino Mountains Trust to restore missing pieces to the southern California National Forests. SAMTF urged our Senators to support the acquisition of Yeager Mesa and Eagle Mountain by the Forest Service. These two inholdings within the Trabuco District had been purchased by the San Bernardino Mountains Trust. Senator Feinstein was instrumental in authorizing the transfer of funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purchase of these areas by the Forest Service in 2009.