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Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Mar 16, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelHurrah for the U.S. Congress. (Did I really say that?) Both the House and the Senate approved a wilderness bill in Michigan earlier this month.

The fact that they could actually agree on something, and the fact that the bill was wilderness, is amazing. Up to now, not a single wilderness bill has passed since 2009. I am hoping this is a new trend in Congress, and together they will be able to get something done that they both agree on. After all, everyone can agree we need clean air and water.

Wilderness is not a difficult subject. Protecting deserving forest lands with a “wilderness” designation keeps those areas free from development and protects them in perpetuity. It prevents new roads from being built within the wilderness boundaries. There can be no logging, mining or building, and it prevents anything mechanized from entering the wilderness boundaries.

Most new bills incorporate language that stipulate in the case of fire, when private property or lives are endangered, fire-fighting equipment can enter the area to cut fire breaks and do their business. This is a good thing.

100_0083This year, Sept. 3 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.  With nearly two dozen bills sitting in committee and not being released to the floor for debate and a vote, I am hoping this anniversary will bring some of them to the floor. With an administration that has been touting its ecological interest, I find it baffling that wilderness has not been a priority.

There is only so much land left that is eligible for a wilderness designation. Wilderness must be pristine. It may not have anything on it that was created by man and left behind … no roads, pipes, cabins, foundations or any other disturbance.

In our congressional district, for example, we have only four Inventoried Roadless Areas within the Angeles National Forest that are pristine enough to be included in wilderness. Combined, that is only 69,000 acres. These areas are surrounded by roads, but there are no roads within them.

The surrounding roads make it easy to visit this potential wilderness. The trails that were originally in the parcels have all gone back to nature. But the dirt roads are open for mountain biking and hiking if one wishes to get closer to nature.

An astounding number of endangered species can be found in our wilderness areas. Thirty-seven endangered species were found in the last count. That includes birds, fish, reptiles, mammals and plants.  It is a little piece of heaven for these protected species. We have the largest endangered black oak forest in the entire state here.  It is also historical condor habitat, and since it is directly across from the Sespe Wilderness, it could again become a nesting site for our increasing condor population.

Conservation in the form of wilderness is important for balance in our ecosystem. We build roads, houses and factories. People throw trash, pollute our water supply and our air. Wilderness helps to counteract all of that. It’s a quality-of-life issue. It’s what keeps our planet in balance. Not everything needs to be wilderness, and not everything needs to be asphalt. It’s the old yin and yang at work.

It is my hope that we can preserve those last few acres in our district this year as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It is a small area in the Castaic Mountains, but it is important to Santa Clarita. If you would like to support me in my efforts to protect these areas, please contact me at zuliebear@aol.com.  Currently the areas have been closed by the Forest Service, but when they are open again, the Community Hiking Club will be leading hikes in the area, and you will be able to appreciate these lovely areas with your own eyes.



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.


Castaic Creek 6832IMG_3075



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  1. Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel I would love to sponsor a bill to declare those parts of the Angeles National Forrest wilderness. Let me know when you’re leading a hike to the area and count me in!

  2. Lee C. Rogers, this area is closed for the remainder of the year due to the Powerhouse fire in two of the areas, and habitat restoration in the others. As soon as it’s open, I will let you know!!! THX!

  3. Please know that once a Wilderness designation is given to an area it means that access is lost.

    • No access will be lost. The trails that used to be there are non-sustainable, and I’ve adjusted the boundary lines so the mountain bikers can keep the American Eagle Trail. I’m also asking that the forest make that a legal trail.

  4. Ken Raleigh says:

    Let’s be clear that the Wilderness designation means that those who prefer to explore and enjoy the outdoors on a bicycle are excluded from a Wilderness area. But such designation still would allow someone like Dianne the ability to use unmechanized tools to clear old trials for use by hikers and equestrians only. Doesn’t sound like good public policy to exclude the 2nd largest and fastest growing trial user group (cyclists). The backcountry non-motorized designation is a more inclusive designation. And the definition of Wilderness should be changed to allow for cycling.

  5. Yes, let’s close off more areas of land from use by all but the heartiest of hikers. Why would we want people of different abilities to have a chance to see what you can see Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel?

  6. Just it is clear. Non motorized bikes and wheelchairs are banned in Wilderness Areas as are camp fires.

  7. Those trails are not sustainable. They will go back to nature. There are no plans to recreate trails that are going to be destroyed by unstable earth/landslides. You bikers use the American Eagle Trail and the boundary has been adjusted to reflect that and keep that trail open for you. AND, all of the roads that divide all of the roadless areas will remain open for you as well. And, right now, all of these areas are closed due to the powerhouse fire. Please note that it is a $5,000 fine per person who enters into these areas, and a possible 6 month jail stint. Two bikers were seen in Fish Canyon last weekend…..

  8. Tony Arnold says:

    While I applaud the efforts to preserve wild and beautiful places in our country, I and scores of others strongly oppose the misuse of the Wilderness designation. A careful review of the original Wilderness Act shows it was never intended to be so widely used. The Wilderness designation has been vastly overapplied in recent years enabled by well funded legal action from environmental groups.

    The USFS and BLM have numerous designations which protect precious lands, yet enable use by more non-motorized user groups. Many environmentalists like the Wilderness designation because it restricts access to only those users they approve of and keeps all other users out of vast expanses of land. All around Souther California, Nevada and Utah, millions of acres of remote and relatively desolate land that have historically been used for mountain biking and OHVs have been classified as recommended Wilderness, shutting generations of kids and families out of historical areas they’ve biked for generations. Interestingly, many of these lands don’t remotely qualify as Wilderness, but again, aggressive legislation has forced the closure of these lands.

    Unfortunately this aggressive closure and restriction on land is not only in remote areas. The USFS is being forced, again via litigation, to classify tens of thousands of acres in our own back yard, near Castaic, as recommended Wilderness. If Congress approves this area as Wilderness, there will never be new trails or family bicycle access to these wonderful areas. Again, these lands should remain classified as back country non-motorized (BCNM), one of the most restrictive of designations, and not as Wilderness.

    Many readers may fail to understand the impact of such restrictive Wilderness designations for years, but as they come closer to our homes and our communities expand, the effects will be felt not only by climbers, bicyclists and OHV users, but by everyone when land we’d all love to enjoy is forever restricted to only a few users.

    Let’s all work to preserve wild and beautiful places, but also work to resist and turn back some of the unnecessary or overly restrictive Wilderness designations.

  9. Instead of complaining about trails that you DO NOT use, you would be much further ahead if you worked with me on the 25+ trails that I have mapped in the contiguous Angeles National Forest. These trails, when approved, will connect every single Congressional District and will take us on foot, on bike, or on horseback from Santa Clarita all the way to Cucamonga. They will all be multi-use Kevin D. Korenthal, Ken Raleigh, and Sean M. Morrisey. Due to the diversity of endangered species in the Fish Canyon area, NO TRAILS will ever be built there. To hike in there, I will be using the same roads that you will be using.

  10. Leon Worden says:

    Not to mention the other thing in Fish Canyon that everybody needs to stay the hell away from.

  11. Leon Worden says:

    This conversation physically sickens my stomach. For a bunch of supposed Republicans to suggest that “mountain bikers” should be a federally protected class is absurd. Mountain bikers have rights – mountain BIKES do not. Mountain bikers have exactly the same rights as ultimate fighters and ballerinas – they have the right to HIKE (or not).

    All I see are threats to ride bicycles all over the sacred Indian archaeological sites that are riddled throughout Castaic Canyon, Fish Canyon, Elderberry Canyon and San Francisquito Canyon. Why do you suppose you haven’t been able to ride bikes there?

    What’s next? ATVs? Monster trucks? Why not just nuke the Native American sites and be done with it?

    If you persist in trying to make (literally) a federal case out of your quest to desecrate Native American sites, I will have no choice but to bring the tribes into the discussion, and you WILL lose. And you MIGHT lose some of the privileges that you CURRENTLY enjoy elsewhere.

  12. Tony Arnold says:

    Diane, thanks for what you are doing in the Angeles, assuming they are all multi-use. We desperately need the additional trails. Please let us know how to assist with securing and advancing the cause on those trails.

    That said, those of us that enjoy mountain biking with our families or OHV vehicles will continue to oppose the abuse of the Wilderness act in making areas never intended to be Wilderness into study areas. We want to preserve plenty of land and access for generations to come and not close it down.

    Though we realize the Fish area and 40,000+ acres north of Castaic will eventually be Wilderness, we will continue to believe that’s an inappropriate designation and one that’s far to limiting for such an expanse of land so close to home.

  13. Thank you, Leon. Mountain bikes were documented as zipping back and forth over the native American burial grounds in Fish Canyon. I also have photos of a dead Arroyo Toad (endangered) that was run over by a bike, and a Southwestern Pond Turtle (Endangered) that was also run over by a bike and killed. I also have photos of multiple illegal trails that the mountain bikers put in, and they were running over the sand banks in the river during breeding time right in the center of the Arroyo Toad breeding ground. These reasons are why it needs to be closed.

  14. Furthermore, the topography does not allow for any new trails in the area. The roads that are there will remain open for OHV, bike, equestrian and hiking. The non-sustainable trails will be closed to all to protect the endangered species. It is not cost effective to keep them open when the forest service would have to be repairing them on a weekly basis. And, the endangered species need to recover, and the Native American sites need to be left alone.

  15. Tony Arnold says:

    Diane, please forward or let me know where I can pick up the copies documentation in the cases of the toad, turtle, and if possible burial ground so we can investigate further.

  16. Tony Arnold, all of the trails that I am working on in the Angeles National forest will be designated multi-use (hike, bike, horse). If you and your buddies want to help, I will let you know as soon as I get the go-ahead to put them in. The go-ahead will hinge on the passage of the National Recreation Area in the Angeles. With that comes money.

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