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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Nov 6, 2016
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DianneErskineHellrigelOn Oct. 10, 2014, President Obama signed a proclamation that made 342,177 acres of the Angeles National Forest a National Monument. It is the eighth national monument under Forest Service management. Along with this designation came stricter guidelines for protection of the forest, the species that live there, historical sites and heritage sites. It also meant a new monument management plan was needed.

Approximately 45 citizens from all walks of life, from diverse backgrounds and cultures, have been working to create a new monument management plan. The Community Collaborative, as they are called, has just completed a consensus comment letter and a draft environmental analysis that has been delivered to the Forest Service on guidelines for a better, safer, greener, diverse forest with better recreational opportunities, better and cleaner access, higher protections for endangered species and much more.

Adrienne Dunfee, deputy manager of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, received the letter from the National Forest Foundation Community Collaborative that has been working so hard on the monument management plan.

The purpose statement of the collaborative is to “represent the general public by integrating diverse perspectives to identify, analyze, prioritize and advocate for values, resources, investments, management objectives and implementation practices that sustainably benefit all communities throughout the region, the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.”

By working with the U.S. Forest Service, the collaborative is taking advantage of the opportunity to improve the monument in many areas, including sustainable recreation, visitor services, multilingual education, protection of cultural and heritage resources, improving stewardship through education and next-generation training, improving and protecting the watershed, and improving public safety. Although these are not the only areas under consideration by the collaborative, they are the ones the committee has prioritized.

The U.S. Forest Service has been actively engaged in the committee, as well. Jeffrey Vail, the new supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, has been heavily engaged in the discussions of the collaborative, as have Matthew Bokach, the new monument manager, and Adrienne Dunfee, the new deputy monument manager. Having the community involved in shaping the new monument has been advantageous both to the Forest Service and to the community as a whole. It is a great thing to have a continual, open line of communication.

The collaborative has been facilitated by the National Forest Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service. Its people have not only led the meetings, but also have taken fastidious notes, prepared documents, arranged for facilities, attended committee meetings and helped nurture the committee along – which has not always been an easy task.

The National Forest Foundation participants who have done such a tremendous job for us are Mary Mitsos, Edward Belden, Emily Olsen and Karen DiBari. Without them, most of us would have walked out of the room in frustration many a time. They truly are miracle workers.

Not only do we meet to discuss the monument management plan, but we organize projects throughout the forest to improve the visitor experience, improve the habitat, and improve the safety of various areas within the forest. Projects we are working on include the East Fork project, which will improve and increase parking at the trail head, make access to the river safer and preserve the banks of the river, as well. Educational components will eliminate issues with trash and diapers left behind. Increased law enforcement patrols will also assist.

Access to the forest has also long been a problem. We are working to increase access by bringing people into the forest via bus routes. This will help eliminate parking problems, traffic and pollution into the forest areas. It will also make it convenient for people who do not have vehicles to access the forest and be able to enjoy it.

Many of the sub-organizations within the collaborative are working to restore trails, remove invasive species of plants such as arrundo donax and tamarisk, and we’re working to plant trees and native chaparral to help restore the forest and improve the visitor experience. And provide additional recreational opportunities.

In the past two years, the national monument has suffered some bad press, especially in the L.A. Times. The complaints were: “nothing has been done in a year,” and “we visited the East Fork and there was trash all over the place,” and a few more. It has been only two years since the monument was proclaimed. In that time, we have developed multiple plans of action to improve the areas within the monument. We’ve had on-the-ground events where trash cans have been painted to become more visible and “fun.” Those trash cans are highly visible now and are being used more often. There are more field rangers to enforce littering rules. There have been graffiti removals; there is a plan ready to be launched in the East Fork to improve visitor services and improve law enforcement; user-created dams will be “busted,” which will improve the habitat for the fish; and much more.

Slowly but surely, we will bring the forest back to its pristine state. And with new, dedicated and wonderful management of the Forest Service, we will succeed.

Keep in mind that miracles do not happen overnight, and it takes a village to raise a “child.” We are that village, and a miracle is in the making.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

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2 Comments

  1. adam mac says:

    I hope that the new Plan addresses the horrible illegal mining that takes place, provides for the arrest of repeat offenders and for the arrest of illegal squatters.

    Also I hope that the new Plan addresses the illegal bungee company and the massive pollution and damage he and his customers are doing to our forest.

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