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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Sep 28, 2014
deh_sangabriels

dianneerskinehellrigel_bearI’ve hiked, fished, picnicked and camped in the Angeles National Forest for as long as I can remember. My mother had me toddling along after her on the trails when I was 2.

Needless to say, I’ve grown up loving the Angeles National Forest. Nearly every weekend, my family was in the forest playing. We all loved it. We loved the fresh air, the running rivers and the beautiful land. This diverse, mountainous region, whether it be chaparral, pine forest or desert is beyond beautiful.

As a child, I would look up at those dramatic peaks in anticipation of my next visit. It’s been many years since my childhood in the forest, and yet, I still feel the same love and appreciation for them.

Angelenos are so fortunate to have this jewel right in their backyard. Every single resident living in the county, and beyond, should visit the forest. The forest can “center” you and revive you after a long, hard week. The fresh, clean air and the rushing river or trickling brook is the most delightful of sounds. When I need solitude, I head to the mountains. And the forest is free, or nearly so. Some campgrounds have daily fees. It is in the mountains that I feel I am truly alive.

These mountains once were the hunting grounds of Native Americans. They hunted, fished and gathered plants to eat for medicinal purposes and for ceremonial use. There is evidence all over the forest of habitation sites. There are petroglyphs, mortars and pestles, and cupules. There are also ancient burial grounds, and you can almost feel the spirits of their ancestors as you walk along a deserted trail.

deh092814bOver the years, I have seen changes in the mountains. Some of these changes are the result of lack of funding, and some are from neglect. Still, there are other problems I’ve seen, like graffiti, litter and dumped trash that affect the quality of visits to the forest. I have even seen diapers flowing down the San Gabriel River, which becomes L.A. drinking water. Yum.

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign (SGMF) has been working on a solution to these problems for 10 years. It worked with U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, to develop a plan, along with the National Park Service, to protect and restore the Angeles National Forest. Chu introduced the San Gabriel National Recreation Area legislation earlier this year. Unfortunately, it has not gained momentum in Congress. Thus, the SGMF began looking for other solutions. Currently it is proposing a monument status for the region.

While this would not achieve everything the National Recreation Area legislation would achieve, the campaign has asked for a multitude of things that would improve the user experience, improve access, improve the air and water quality, and restore many of the areas that have been neglected in recent years. And with increased use, things like bathrooms and picnic tables have fallen into disrepair, and areas have been closed off to the public.

deh092814dAs an example of the state of the forest, Community Hiking Club volunteers have picked up more than 5,000 pounds of broken glass in the forest. People toss bottles out of their cars. Others shoot bottles for target practice. And we end up with shiny shards everywhere. But the bigger problem that exists with this practice is that the endangered condors pick it up, weigh it, and take it back to their nest to feed their chicks. Each little shard of glass can kill a condor and condor chick.

I am sure the people who broke this glass had no idea that in doing so, they could kill an endangered bird. Every act of carelessness like this has a negative impact in the forest. Cigarette butts can also cause the demise of a condor or other animal that might find it and eat it. Nicotine is a poison.

The forest is filled with non-native plants that have come from home gardens. An example is tamarisk. Tamarisk was brought here from the Middle East because it has pretty flowers. It now inhabits nearly every canyon in Santa Clarita as well as riparian areas in the forest.

Tamarisk

Tamarisk

Big deal, you say. Well, it is a big deal. Each tamarisk plant can suck up to 300 gallons of water per day out of the eco-system. Each plant can have up to 500,000 seeds per year. They also multiply via runners. Tamarisk is a vigorous plant that can displace native vegetation. It is estimated that the Western states are losing up to 4.5 million acre feet of water per year just due to the tamarisk infestation. And just a reminder, we’re in a severe drought here … yet no one is taking the initiative to remove the vast amounts of tamarisk that have invaded the Western states. Most methods of removal or treatment are unsuccessful. The USDA is currently experimenting with bio-control. It is using a beetle in some Western states to attack the tamarisk. Meanwhile, without hand removal, which takes a huge amount of manpower, tamarisk continues to invade our habitat and choke off our streams, leaving people and native animals short on water.

I support the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Campaign’s work to make the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. It will solve some of the problems we’re seeing on the ground. It will increase access to recreation, and at the same time it will bring more funding to the Angeles which will result in better law enforcement, better services and many other improvements.

It is a way to begin the major turn-around that we need in our forest. We need better infrastructure, we need areas repaired and open to the public, and we need a cleaner, safer, happier forest. The monument can achieve this.

For more information on the monument, visit http://www.sangabrielmountains.org.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

deh092814adeh092814c

Tamarisk

Tamarisk

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7 Comments

  1. Chris W says:

    Unfortunately Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is greatly mistaken in thinking that making the entirety of the Angeles National Forest into a monument will help save it. First of all is the funding claim, National Park/Monument budgets have been continually cut for decades now, while at the same time monument lands have increased in number, this means fewer federal dollars to go around not more.

    Next are acess issues and her desire to have “fishing” for example. Here again she is mistaken. With the monument designation comes the “wild and scenic” title to the San Gabriel River. That entails a whole list of new restrictions first is no more stocking of non native fish into any of the waters or tributaries of the river, that means once the river dries up no more fishing ever again. Also since the river is now to be a “protected” river the Off Road park in it will have to close, and no more dispersed camping/picnicking along it’s banks either.

    She also talks about the native heritage of hunter gatherers. Here again she is mistaken. Under a monument status there is no shooting allowed so the Burro Canyon shooting range would also have to close. Additionally since only congress could approve of any hunting on monument lands we already know their general consensus is to ban all hunting.

    Next are the people who own lands with in the area and the people who own lease cabins. The record here is that these properties could be forced to sell back to the monument and all forest lease cabins terminated and destroyed as is the practice now. This could mean the closure of long time business like Camp Williams, Crystal Lake Café and cabins and the pack station that served all those forest lease cabins, gone forever.

    Finally is her very “Angelinos” issue the folks that do all this damage she complains about. You cannot change a cultural mindset that loves to leave it’s mark everywhere. But her remarks about making access easier are again a mistaken desired goal. First is where access was once free and easy, everyone will be charged a daily fee upwards of $25 a person. The typical Angelino I know with a family of 4+ will not be able to afford the trip, so in a way that is how she will protect our beloved forest, price them out.

    So a monument won’t help financially, but it will reduce use and create a massive hikers paradise though.

    No that is not right and why the idea of a monument has not caught on as it does not serve the Angeles national forest well and denies access to all users as well as close down the beloved traditional places and types of recreation enjoyed by all. The Angeles is not just a hiking destination as such I and many others say no to a monument status.

  2. Dave W says:

    Nearly all of Chris W.’s points are incorrect with regard to the specifics of this monument proposal and more generally with regard to past monument designations. Here is some information that is not completely wrong, for people who are more into that.
    Point by point:
    BUDGET: All public lands budgets have been cut over the years; monument status would move this area into a category that elevates its potential for additional funding, as evidenced by recent monument designations. Additional funding is not triggered nor guaranteed by national monument status.
    FISHING: There is no Wild & Scenic status for the San Gabriel River attached to this proposal. Even if there were, it would not change how decisions about fish stocking–or fishing–are made. There are many Wild and Scenic Rivers that are stocked with non-native fish. State fish and wildlife departments retain control over those decisions.
    OFF-ROAD PARK: The off-road park area is specifically excluded from the Monument proposal. Period.
    HUNTING: National monuments specifically protect most existing uses, including hunting. Hunting is in fact allowed in all BLM and Forest Service-managed national monuments. It is simply a made-up statement that “only Congress can approve of hunting in a monument.”
    PRIVATE PROPERTY: Monument designations only apply to federal lands. Private properties are excluded from monuments. No one will be forced to sell their cabin. Chris’s assertion that “the record here is that these properties could be forced to sell back to the monument and all forest lease cabins terminated and destroyed as is the practice now” is completely unfounded and can’t be backed up with examples, because it is not the practice or “the record.” Once again, the point of “monument” designation is to protect it the way it is, not “reduce use.”
    FEES: Nothing about a monument designation changes fee status for an area. That is the decision of the managing agency, in this case the U.S. Forest Service.
    In summary, pretty much all of Chris W.’s points are incorrect with regard to this monument proposal, and for the most part regarding national monuments in general. Beware an opposition that relies on misinformation.

  3. ChrisW says:

    Fact: The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area was also once national forests lands. It too had hunting, forest lease cabins, OHV routes, dogs permitted on leash, trout stocked waters and private land in holdings (with additional lands STILL sought after mind you they are not yet done grabbing lands). Those are all gone. What would be any different here? As such David is lying here
    Fact: “Wild and scenic” is part of the proposal. Wild and scenic means it is “wild” no none native species can be introduced. That is why “Trout Unlimited” is the only wildlife association in support of the designation as it will create the largest wild trout catch and release fishery in the state, till the water dries up and all the fish are gone. With wild and scenic the purpose of is to protect the water shed as such an OHV park right in the river bed flies in the face of that protected status. Again David is lying here. http://www.sangabrielmountains.org/wilderness_and_rivers
    Fact: Only Congress can approve or deny any regulatory changes. As such hunting could be on the chopping block. Additionally there is no monument in any state with a shooting range with in it. There is no monument with an OHV park in the middle of it, getting the point yet?
    Fact: Only congress can set budgets. Secondary to this fact is a changing political shift toward an even tighter federal budget. Additionally only congress can approve or deny changes to admission prices to monuments not the local forest managers, at present the national monuments/parks is pressing congress for additional fee increases upwards of 40%. “Additional funding is not triggered nor guaranteed by national monument status.” David that is the only thing you got right.
    As such say no to monument status.

    • Dave W says:

      I appreciate you being interested enough in the subject to respond, but do not call me a liar. You can question my facts all you want. No one thinks that writing “fact” in front of your statements makes them true. People should educate themselves and make their own decisions. I can’t speak for what caused the changes to the Santa Monica Mountains you refer to. I sincerely doubt they changed because of the National Rec. Area designation, and that’s not even the same designation sought for the San Gabriels. There was wild and scenic protection sought as part of the original proposal, but now that a national monument is seen as the only path forward I am told it has been dropped from the conversation. Anyway, it would still not have the impact you claim. In fact you are very confused about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in general, but you can educate yourself here: http://hunterdonlandtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/WS-QA-doc-5-6-13.pdf
      The “point of it” is to protect against dams and other degradation of the “free-flowing” nature of the river. Nowhere does the wild and scenic rivers act mention fish stocking, because that is managed by states, like the vast majority of wildlife.

      Your comment about hunting makes no sense: “Only Congress can approve or deny any regulatory changes. As such hunting could be on the chopping block.” First of all, if it took Congress to ban hunting then it is clearly safe–they aren’t doing anything. But your premise is just not correct – the Forest Service is charged with making ALL KINDS of regulatory decisions, and will continue to be the managing agency for the monument. Again, the point of a national monument is to keep natural values, resources and recreational activities as they are, while protecting against further development and/or degradation. There is a lot of work being done to avoid conflict over the OHV park. It will likely just be excluded from the final monument boundaries. You are also conflating national monuments and parks. Again, this monument will not be managed by the park service, and Congress will most certainly not be the one setting fees for it. Please check these things out more carefully before presenting yourself as a source of facts.

    • Dave W says:

      Enjoy your new national monument Christopher!

  4. ChrisW says:

    Fact: The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area was also once national forests lands. It too had hunting, forest lease cabins, OHV routes, dogs permitted on leash, trout stocked waters and private land in holdings (with additional lands STILL sought after mind you they are not yet done grabbing lands). Those are all gone. What would be any different here? As such David is lying here
    Fact: “Wild and scenic” is part of the proposal. Wild and scenic means it is “wild” no none native species can be introduced. That is why “Trout Unlimited” is the only wildlife association in support of the designation as it will create the largest wild trout catch and release fishery in the state, till the water dries up and all the fish are gone. With wild and scenic the purpose of is to protect the water shed as such an OHV park right in the river bed flies in the face of that protected status. Again David is lying here. http://www.sangabrielmountains.org/wilderness_and_rivers
    Fact: Only Congress can approve or deny any regulatory changes. As such hunting could be on the chopping block. Additionally there is no monument in any state with a shooting range with in it. There is no monument with an OHV park in the middle of it, getting the point yet?
    Fact: Only congress can set budgets. Secondary to this fact is a changing political shift toward an even tighter federal budget. Additionally only congress can approve or deny changes to admission prices to monuments not the local forest managers, at present the national monuments/parks is pressing congress for additional fee increases upwards of 40%. “Additional funding is not triggered nor guaranteed by national monument status.” David that is the only thing you got right.
    As such say no to monument status.

  5. Chris W. says:

    David you are lying as are most that are backing this proposal. My facts are correct anyone can read the proposal. “wild and scenic” designation remains in the proposal and it is you that has no clue what the designation means to recreational activity. With out a doubt the OHV park would be closed. And just to remain transparent are there any OHV groups in support? for obvious reasons no. Are there Any home owner groups with homes or land leases in the monument area in support? Again no for obvious reasons. Commercial interests such as mining operations or timber harvesting in support? NO! in fact the only people in support are hikers, a few fly fisherman and a few road bikers hoping that hwy 39 would be opened up all the way thru which will not happen even under monument status ever! The biggest issue is the trampling of our local rights by pushing Obama to forgo the legislative process and with a stroke of his mighty pen override the wishes of the majority of the people. And you know what? that lame duck might just do that. God forbid.

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