Archive for the ‘Angeles National Forest’ Category

What’s Next for the San Gabriels?

Friday, March 27th, 2015

On Wednesday, March 25th, the Sierra Club did a panel presentation on the future of the San Gabriel Mountains.  The panel members were Steve Scauzillo, local newspaper reporter, Daniel Lovato, Acting Supervisor, Angeles National Forest, Belinda Faustinos, Vice Chair, San Gabriel Mountains Forever, Tim Brick, Managing Director, The Arroyo Seco Foundation, and Edward Belden, Southern California Program Associate, National Forest Foundation.

Daniel Lovato gave an encouraging update on what’s already happened, and what is in the works for the coming months. There are some positive changes and staffing increases planned.  They’re filling several vacant staff positions, including a volunteer coordinator, which should make it better for us and take some load off Recreation Officer Dennis Merkel, who has been doing multiple duties over and above his Rec officer position.  There will be about 3 million dollars for Monument Management allocated to the mountains in 2015 from Region 5. Consultants are being hired to oversee the management plan development, as they don’t have the in-house capacity to undertake this effort.
SGMNM size comparisonMore money is coming for projects. Tentative plans include funding for ongoing and new restoration and redevelopment programs, removal of invasive species, funding of youth employment programs, hiring of paid personnel for the Visitors Centers and the development of a “Field Ranger” program.  They will be filling the visitor center positions by hiring recently returned veterans as part of a post-military service job placement program. Some of those will be on the ground by Memorial Day.
There are more than $1 million needed to update all the signs in the forest. They’re placing this at the bottom of the priority list for the moment. They’re also developing a spreadsheet of ready-to-go projects which they’ll make available to groups who are looking to donate time, materials or funds for specific projects. They are working on a partnership with corporations, including Coca Cola, and nonprofits to bring in more funds.
One of the themes of the evening was why the boundaries of the National Monument were set to exclude some of the most heavily used, historic, and popular areas of the front country. Nobody has an answer, not even the Forest Service.
Tim Brick of the Arroyo Seco Foundation was very adamant about the need to include the La River Ranger District and the Arroyo Seco. He also talked a lot about the Brown Mountain Dam, which he says the Forest Service doesn’t classify as a dam. However it is listed it as one of the most dangerous dams in the country on national infrastructure reports. It hasn’t been inspected since 1994. He also talked about how disappointed he was that people can’t walk up the arroyo canyon to switzers (Gabrielino trail) for the first time in Centuries. He said it used to be part of the the native American route up and over the mountains to the desert. “For the first time in history, after the station fire, people can’t go there and the trail is gone”.  He wasn’t aware, and we let him know, that CORBA has been funding the restoration of the trail over Brown Mountain dam through an REI Grant and a partnership with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.

Belinda Faustinos, chair of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition, thanked me for our extensive input on the new National Monument Public Involvement Plan. All the CORBA and MWBA recommendations were taken into consideration by the subcommittee and will be included in the report they will present at the next Community Collaborative meeting.
She went on to state that The San Gabriel Mountains Forever group’s primary mission is now to ensure the success of the National Monument, through grant funding, fundraising, community outreach, and through public input on the management plan. We fully support this.
Their secondary mission is to expand the National Monument to include those areas of the front country, Mount Lukens and the southwest LARRD , that was left out of the monument. This is something I believe CORBA can support, but only after we have a successful track record with the current monument. It will take either an act of congress or a new presidential proclamation to achieve this expansion. It’s unlikely to happen under the Obama administration, and more likely through legislation. Either way, it will take some time.
Their third priority is to establish new wilderness areas, including Condor Peak, Fish Canyon (now a Recommended Wilderness), and expansion of existing wilderness areas. This is where our opinions diverge. I’m hoping that the relationships we are developing through the collaborative will make it easier for us to negotiate and stand up for access to trails when those wilderness proposals surface.
There was also talk a brief mention of the Rim of the Valley Corridor Study, which has been delayed for some time and has now missed three public release deadlines.
Edward Belden gave a great talk on the National Forest Foundation, and how they are working in Big Tujunga as a part of their Treasured Landscapes program, and have proposed a pilot project to remove invasive arundo from east fork of the San Gabriel river. One of his presentation slides acknowledged CORBA and MWBA as some of the groups they’ve partnered with on projects (Strawberry Peak Trail, National Trails Day, Etc).
There was some really encouraging news and a generally good vibe in the room. CORBA’s involvement in the Community Collaborative, and our continued efforts as both stewards of the trails and the lands through which they pass, is helping to bring together an at times divided trail community. We’ll continue to be engaged in ensuring the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument remain great places to ride a mountain bike.

President’s Message: Collaboration is Key

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

In this day and age the most effective way to achieve anything for the public good is to collaborate.  Whether those collaborations are with land managers, other trail user groups, public-private partnerships, or other entities, they are necessary. Nothing gets accomplished in a vacuum.

It was through a collaboration with a number of different groups that the Strawberry Peak loop was restored and re-opened in the Angeles National Forest, now the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. It was only possible with several groups pooling and sharing resources and coordinating our efforts. We couldn’t have done it alone.

To help bolster support and improve community participation in and stewardship of the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, a Community Collaborative group has been formed. As one of the 12 “steering committee” members, I had the opportunity to help shape what that group will look like. The first meeting of the full Collaborative group was on March 4th, 2015.

At that meeting we had a broad range of interests in attendance. About five people from the invitee list were absent, which is to be expected trying organize a group of this size. The first order of the day was introductions. Water was well-represented with several water districts and the association of water districts in attendance. We had Caltrans, Edison, two LA County representatives including a District 5 representative, and Flood control. There was also a San Bernardino County representative. Also present were a number of councils of governments, and a council of chambers of commerce. Recreation was represented BY CORBA, California Off-Road Vehicle Association and the Community Hiking Club, and Mount Baldy resort. Native American interests were there, along with several social and health justice organizations. The National Forest Foundation did an excellent job of winnowing down an extensive interest list to bring this group together.

B2-RkwlCQAAwUb7Since this was the first meeting of the full collaborative group, most of the day was spent going over and refining the draft documents that the steering committee had prepared. This included the guiding documents for the Collaborative, the Statement of Purpose, the Goals and the Code of Conduct. There was a lot of similar discussions to those the steering committee had already had, but these new points of view raised some issues that weren’t well-covered in our draft. We refined the documents and by day’s end, the group had formally ratified and adopted them.

We also heard an approximate timeline on the development of the Management Plan for the new monument, which must be completed by October 10, 2017, as stated in the Presidential Proclamation. Currently the Forest Service is developing a plan on how to reach out to the community effectively, this group being a key component of that plan. They have started preparing a “Need for Change” document, which states what needs to be changed in the current Angeles National Forest Management Plan to bring it into alignment with the language of the Proclamation. This need for change document will be posted publicly in the coming months as the starting point for the public process of developing the new management plan.

The group agreed to meet monthly during this first and extremely important year of the management plan development. We will continue to be active throughout the three-year process, and beyond.

Collaboration is key to the success of this endeavor. One of the big changes in the 2012 Forest Planning Rule, was an added emphasis on collaborative efforts as a more productive way of engaging the public in planning processes. There are many collaborative groups working on different Forests and Monuments, but this is the first in a major metropolitan area. Our population base and size presents unique challenges, but I’m confident that this Collaborative will be a productive one, supporting the efforts of the Forest Service to improve the Forest, this new National Monument, and to benefit the communities that depend on it.

One of my roles as a member of the Community Collaborative is to bring your concerns to the table going forward. Feel free to contact me with any concerns that you might find. In turn, I’ll be reporting back to you on the work and progress of the Collaborative, in addition to the Forest Service management plan development process.

Thanks to the National Forest Foundation for serving as neutral facilitators and organizers of this group. The purpose statement and code of conduct adopted on March 5, 2015 are below:

2015 – Statement of Purpose and Goals

2015 – Community Collaborative Code of Conduct

 

 

President’s Message: A Look Back at 2014

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

As we prepare to ring in the new year, it’s a good time to reflect on what has happened over the past twelve months. Here’s a quick recap of CORBA’s most significant efforts of 2014.

strawberry peak trail crew Volunteers, February 16, 2014

Volunteers, February 16, 2014

Trailwork:  One of our biggest accomplishments in 2014 was the restoration of the Strawberry Peak Loop in spring, and the subsequent opening of the trail by the Forest Service on May 28. This much-loved trail was the focus of CORBA, The Sierra Club, and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps as we coordinated efforts to get the trail ready for opening. We were aided by a grant from REI which allowed us to bring in a professional trailbuilder for much of the heavier work. The restoration included a short re-route of one section of the trail that had always been troublesome.  Another planned re-route of the northern end of the Strawberry Peak trail through to Colby ranch is currently in the NEPA process, but the main Strawberry Peak loop used by cyclists is open and has been enjoyed all summer and fall. We also helped restore trails damaged in the Springs fire in Point Mugu State Park, worked on the Backbone trail, and our adopted Los Robles trail. For 2015 we are enlisting some new trail crew leaders, as we look to expand our trailwork activities.

 

CORBA's Youth Adventures

CORBA’s Youth Adventures

Youth Programs:  In 2014 our Youth Adventures program continued in full swing, with Mountain Bike Unit (MBU) volunteers taking at-risk youth out on the trails throughout the year.  We added another special event to our calendar, the Santa Monica Mountains Rec Fest, during which we put more than 200 kids on bikes at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Rec Fest was a great addition to the calendar, and we are hoping that funding can be found to repeat the event. In 2014 our Kids Club program was picked up by Carl Kolvenbach who is leading these monthly social rides for kids and their parents.

 

Skills Clinics: For the first Saturday of every month this year, and the past twenty years, we conducted our free Introduction to Mountain Biking Skills Clinics at Malibu Creek State Park. Hundreds of people learned basic skills at our free clinics this year. This free service will continue through 2015 and beyond.

 

Fillmore Bike Park Jump Line

Fillmore Bike Park Jump Line

Bike Parks:  Fillmore Bike Park construction is well underway. We worked with local advocates from Ride Heritage Valley and the City of Fillmore to bring a new bike park to the town. Construction began in the fall and is ongoing. The park will be opened to the public in 2015, a great asset to the local community.  In Thousand Oaks the plans for Sapwi Trails Community Park are in their final steps to approval. The plans include a pump track and dirt jumps for bikes, along with multi-use trails. We’re excited to see this facility approved and look forward to its construction. We still have pending proposals before L.A. County, and we hope to see continued progress on those proposals in the new year.

 

National Forest Management Plans:  2014 also saw the completion of the four SoCal National Forests Land Management Plan Amendments. During this five-year process we engaged with the Forest Service on the re-examination of their land management plans. The Forest Service was sued for not providing adequate protections for threatened and endangered species, and the settlement agreement had the Forest Service reassess areas of the four Forests for increased protections. The outcome of that process was the proposed Fish Canyon Recommended Wilderness. We filed a formal objection to the RW, as it would close three long-distance backcountry trails to bikes. Though these were not popular trails and hardly saw any use over the past several years, they are still a loss of opportunity to the mountain biking community. The final record of decision was a happy compromise: We now have a recommended wilderness area, but the trails will remain open to bikes until such time as a forest order is issued to specifically close the trails to bicycles.

President Obama signs the proclamation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

President Obama signs the proclamation

National Monument: One of the biggest surprises of the year was the announcement and soon thereafter, the proclamation of the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. While we were all taken by surprise with this announcement, the outcome, our new National Monument, will help the Forest Service attract more resources to the area and bring more attention to our beloved mountains. CORBA will be actively participating in the development of the Management Plan for the National Monument, both as a part of the NEPA process, and as a part of a collaborative group brought together by the National Forest Foundation to ensure as much public engagement as possible in that process.

 

 

Bell boxes contain bells   which are free to all users. Please use a bell!

Bell boxes contain bells which are free to all users. Please use a bell!

Trail Safety: Over this past year CORBA engaged with the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council to strategize on trail safety. We developed an educational trail etiquette brochure, which is now being distributed throughout the area. The brochure has been very well-received. In 2015 we will expand upon those efforts by developing a companion trail etiquette web site. We have received a grant from the Trails and Greenways Foundation to achieve this goal. CORBA has also implemented a bell program in the Conejo Valley, and we now have several different style bells available for purchase.

 

CORBA Board: In 2014 we welcomed Wendy Engelberg to our board of directors, and the bundle of energy and enthusiasm she brings. Steve Messer took over from Mark Langton as board President, while Jennifer Klausner completed her final year as Executive Director of the LA County Bicycle Coalition. We have open seats on our board and welcome any inquiries or nominations.

 

A few losses: We lost our battle with State Parks over the revision of the California Code of Regulations pertaining to trail use in State Parks. While a win would have changed nothing with regards to existing trails, we felt the language we proposed was more welcoming to all trail users and a better regulation for new trails. State Parks leadership were chided for a mismanaged public process in developing the new regulations, which have since been sent back into the public process. However, it has become obvious that no amount of public engagement is going to change what State Parks wanted in the first place, a regulation that makes it more difficult to open trails to bikes.

California State Parks have been under much scrutiny with the Parks Forward Commission releasing findings of numerous areas that need improvement in the administration of our State Parks. Their plan will be released sometime in 2015. We are hoping to see some of the recommendations of the commission implemented, but the reforms will likely be difficult in this chronically mismanaged agency.

Looking forward to 2015, we’ll be as busy as ever. We’ll continue to work with State Parks, the National Park Service, the Forest Service, Los Angeles County, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency and local cities and conservancies. We’ll continue to monitor trail access issues. We’ll continue to advocate for more trail opportunities. We’ll continue to work with IMBA at the national level, and our neighboring IMBA Chapters and other trail organizations locally and state-wide.

At the moment we know of at least three major issues that will get our full attention in 2015. The first is the previously mentioned San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Management Plan.

Next is the Santa Monica Mountain Trails Master Plan. This plan has been in development for more than 12 years, and is the primary reason that State Parks have not yet followed through on their obligation to assess existing trails for bicycle use. We expect public hearings on the trail master plan to begin mid-winter. This will be one of the most important processes for you to stay involved with, and will determine the future of bicycle access to trails in the Santa Monica Mountains for decades to come.

Rim of the Valley Study Area

Rim of the Valley Study Area

The Rim of the Valley Corridor Study will also be released in Winter 2015. This study is examining the mountains surrounding the San Fernando, Simi, Conejo, and Crescenta and San Rafael valleys for an integrated management approach. This study has implications for trail connectivity, resource protection, wildlife corridors and more.

We need your support. CORBA, with it’s small but dedicated crew of volunteers, has a lot on our plate for 2015. But if we are to accomplish everything on our agenda for 2015, we’ll need some help from you. We depend on your support and your membership dollars. You have renewed your membership, right?  In addition to your membership, attending public meetings and submitting your comments on issues that affect our trails is the most important thing you can do.  Of course, volunteering to do trailwork is the most tangible ways you can make a difference. Join our Meetup group to stay up to date on our activities. We also welcome help in areas of graphic design, public relations/marketing, fundraising and grantwriting. If you’d like to just stay on top of what’s happening and get some of the inside scoop, consider attending our monthly board meetings.

Get out and ride. Stay informed and involved. Remember to be courteous to other trail users. Thanks for your support through a great 2014, and have a wonderful, happy and prosperous 2015!

A Monumental Collaboration

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Initially, we were taken aback by the announcement of a newly proposed National Monument in our local mountains. It was clear that it was going to happen with or without our involvement. We gave our conditional support to the proclamation, attended the proclamation signing celebration, and began our outreach efforts in earnest. We subsequently met with Congresswoman Judy Chu and expressed our desire to be included and involved.

Subsequently, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) interviewed a number of trail advocates, public lands advocates, and community group leaders. As CORBA President, I was interviewed, along with a few dozen other individuals. After the interviews, twelve of us were invited to participate in a collaborative working group.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Collaborative Working Group

Collaborative Working Group Meeting

On December 2nd, 2014, the first collaborative working group meeting was convened. We discussed the role of the collaborative group, and strategized about how to engage more people in both the development of a management plan for the Monument, as well as how to better connect communities to the mountains and the recreational opportunities they provide. Together, the working group developed a draft structure and recommendations for the expansion of the group, which will be expanded to include dozens of stakeholders. A participation subcommittee was formed to develop a list of candidates for the larger collaborative group. The outcome of the first meeting helped set the stage for the process going forward, but the larger group will be convened before making any binding decisions.

We also developed the following draft mission statement for the collaborative group:

Represent diverse perspectives to identify, prioritize and advocate for investments, management objectives, and values that sustainably benefit the Angeles National Forest, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, and all communities throughout the region.

In this collaborative process, the NFF is serving as a neutral convener, providing the forum and the structure for this process. The National Monument Management Plan will be developed through a NEPA public process that will begin in 2015. The collaborative group’s efforts are happening in parallel to this NEPA process, will help inform that process, and help ensure that many disparate interests are considered. However, it will be the Forest Service that has final say over the management of the National Monument.

What we did not get was answers to many of the questions that still surround this hastily declared National Monument. Questions such as why certain heavily-impacted areas were left out, or how the Monument will be funded. While we’re all still curious as to the answers to these and other questions, the more important question is how best to work with and manage the National Monument we were given.

The collaborative working group will next meet in mid-January, and the expanded group will be convened in February or early March.

Presidential Proclamation: Establishing the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Monday, October 13th, 2014
President Obama signs the proclamation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

President Obama signs the proclamation

In what seems to be lightning speed, last Friday, October 10, 2014, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation – Establishment of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The ceremony was held at Bonelli Regional Park, with the San Gabriel Mountains themselves providing a dramatic backdrop for the event. We understand proclamation delivers much of what we expected, with no unexpected surprises. We expect to be pleased by it’s language and intent, and still amazed at how quickly it all happened. Once the final proclamation is posted, we’ll update accordingly.

Though the last two months have seemed quick from our perspective, the effort to bring additional resources and protection to the San Gabriel Mountains has been underway for more than a decade. Since Hilda Solis introduced the legislation to study the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed in 2002, the area has been the subject of highly organized and focused advocacy efforts from a diverse range of environmental and social groups. Today was a great milestone and achievement not just for those groups, but for all of us who value the forest, its resources, and the opportunities it provides.

Judy Chu thanks the coalition of supporters

Judy Chu thanks the dignitaries and coalition of supporters

We’re especially pleased to see the prominence of recreation in all the later announcements, and the implicit acknowledgement that bicycles and other recreational uses are welcomed and appropriate. We’d like to think it was no accident that the Whitehouse blog post about the signing features a mountain biker as the first picture. We understand the proclamation further protects the mountains, but also protects our access and ability to recreate in them. Its potential to bolster the quality and continuity of our water supply can’t be understated. These mountains are the lungs of the city, the place to go for cleaner air and a clearer mind and a healthier body. And they’ll continue to be so.

There are still many opposed to the National Monument proclamation. The public relations outreach effort was botched from the start, and felt like an afterthought to something that was already well underway. The movement’s momentum was evident even at that poorly executed initial public announcement on August 26, 2014. There had been no public involvement in the process, and that initial announcement was just that, an announcement, not a true public participation event. It was for that reason we thought it best to approach and work with the proponents of the NM, and help make sure that recreational users and conservationists were heard and considered.

By being involved and reaching out early on, engaging with San Gabriel Mountains Forever and their partners, we’re in a better position going forward. The ability to present a unified position from multiple organizations advocating for both recreation and conservation will help these treasured lands meet the needs of everyone. It will help protect where we play.

The previously posted National Monument FAQ’s were developed as a joint project with MWBA, SGMF and much appreciated guidance and expertise from IMBA and The Wilderness Society at the national level. Those FAQ’s all still apply, and we’ll work with those same groups when the management planning process begins. We’ll continue to represent bicyclists’ interests in an advisory role that will help guide the Monument’s management plan development. (more…)

Conditional Support of a San Gabriel National Monument

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
Condor Peak Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains, still threatened by wilderness proposals

Condor Peak Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains

As previously reported, CORBA has been working with several other groups to get assurances that our needs will be met when and if the San Gabriels are declared a National Monument. As we’ve received answers to many of those questions, the answers have been compiled into a set of frequently asked questions, or “FAQ’s” about the National Monument.

We’ve also seen correspondence from members of congress that support our position for continued bicycle access, along with all other forms of recreation currently allowed in the Angeles National Forest. We’re confident that under a National Monument, we’ll be able to continue riding the trails and volunteering to maintain them as we do now. This is a vision for the San Gabriel Mountains that we can support.

That said, we must say that our support is tentative, and conditional on the final language of the proclamation and its accompanying preamble reflecting these recreational goals and ideals. We have not yet seen that final language, nor received any direct confirmation of the contents of the proclamation. While verbal assurances are helpful, until it is finalized and in writing, we feel it’s too early to proclaim our outright support. We have co-authored a letter that outlines a vision of a National Monument that we can and will support. We’re hopeful that letter has been given due consideration.

Today the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece that closely reflects our position. They support the designation, but do so with skepticism of the proponents’ claims that this will make all the trash, graffiti, and lack of maintenance go away. The only thing that will make these things go away is funding for the additional staff, rangers, education, law enforcement, and maintenance crews needed to manage the forest. While a National Monument greatly increases the opportunities for more funding and staff, it comes with no outright guarantee.

2014-10-07 - Joint-SGMNM-FAQ_01News has just been released that President Obama may declare the National Monument as soon as this Friday, two days from now. For us and many others, this is a far too hasty response. If the proclamation is as we have been led to expect–acknowledging the value and importance of continued recreational access including bicycles–then we should have no problem. But we fail to see the need to push this through less than two months after the public learned of this proposal, and six weeks after the one and only “public meeting” (in which the public were not able to speak). At that meeting, even members of the invited panel of speakers raised questions that as yet, remain unanswered.

Both San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties have come out against the Monument proposal, in part because of a lack of public outreach and answers as to how this will really impact their constituents.

We’d have prefered a slower approach with more public participation. There are many individuals and organizations adamantly opposed to the Monument. If allowed to voice their concerns and have them addressed and answered, some of that opposition would be reduced. As it is, this rushed process is just fueling their anger and outrage at a lack of public outreach. However, we remain hopeful and confident that any impending announcement will be favorable to mountain bikes.

The following FAQ’s are a summary of the questions and answers we’ve compiled in collaboration with IMBA, Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, San Gabriel Mountains Forever, The Wilderness Society, and the Conservation Land Trust.

With these questions answered, and the assurances from multiple sources (in lieu of the final proclamation language) of our continued access, we are giving our conditional support to the proposal.

 

 

 

San Gabriels National Monument Update

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

2014-0925-Pasadena_Star_NewsOn Thursday, September 25, 2014, an article appeared in the Pasadena Star News and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune about the growing support for a National Monument designation for our local San Gabriel Mountains. The story fails to mention any opposition to the proposal, which is also growing. In it, the author states that:

“Chu has met with the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association and the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association since members of the group attended a town hall Aug. 26 in Baldwin Park. 

“The cyclists’ concerns about a national monument were addressed when it was explained that mountain biking is very compatible with a national monument designation,” Chu said in a statement.”

This is not exactly correct. Chu has not yet met with us, though we would welcome and look forward to such a meeting. However, staff members of IMBA, our parent organization, did meet with her staff in Washington DC and receive those assurances. We have learned from several different sources that recreational uses of the forest, including mountain biking, would continue unaffected under a new designation. In fact, we’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks as we work with supporters of the monument proposal.

We have been working with IMBA, MWBA, San Gabriel Mountains Forever, the Conservation Land Trust and the Wilderness Society to prepare a set of FAQ’s to answer some of the many questions surrounding this proposal. We are also working on on a joint statement from all these groups expressing our conditional support for a monument that ensures our continued access to trails by bicycle, and other recreational uses.

Look for those FAQ’s here on our web site in the coming days.

 

 

President’s Message: A National Monument?

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
Recently created Fort Ord National Monument ensures continued bicycle access

Recently created Fort Ord National Monument ensures continued bicycle access

Just two weeks ago the public learned of a movement to have the San Gabriel Mountains declared a National Monument. The news came as a surprise, and we had little time to look deeper into what this meant. Last week’s public meeting did serve one purpose well, to get the discussion–and the emotions–going. The sudden announcement caught everyone’s attention, all the way up to the Undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture. This meant that it was happening quickly, and the process was already underway. It’s in all our best interest to be a part of that process, whether or not the final outcome is a new National Monument.

Since last week’s public meeting, we’ve had time to begin a dialog with conservationists and other stakeholders and to do some research of our own. We now understand the Forest Service would continue to manage the land under a National Monument designation. We learned that recently declared For Ord National Monument has language specifically mentioning bicyclists as legitimate trail users, and directs that bicycles are accommodated in a transportation/trail plan. This is an extremely positive precedent which encourages us. We’ve had several verbal assurances that mountain biking access would not be impacted, and that similar language could be developed for this proposal.

As we begin to be involved in the development of that language, we are working with our fellow chapters, IMBA staff, and other stakeholders to ensure our continued ability to ride mountain bikes on the trails and fire roads we love, and to improve overall conditions in the forest (through better protections and additional funding). A well-written National Monument proclamation and any additional funding it brings may be preferable to the Angeles NF continuing to be underfunded and understaffed, or even a wilderness bill that would close off access to trails.

There are many competing interests for National Forest land. There are those interested in protecting it, developing it, and just recreating in it. The challenge will be to get the balance between those interests right. If a National Monument proclamation does move forward, as it appears to be, we need to be involved in its development and included in the outcome.

In the meantime remember to make time to ride. Every time we do so we remind ourselves why our local mountains are important to us. They’re important enough to protect, and important enough to want to ensure that our grandkids can enjoy similar trail experiences, and similar ways to connect with nature.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument meeting, August 26th, 2014

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Supervisor Tom Contreras intLast night an overflowing crowd packed into the Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center to hear from a panel of “experts” about the future of the San Gabriel Mountains. Among the honored guests and panel of experts were Robert Bonnie, the undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture, Tom Tidwell, Chief Forester of the Forest Service, Randy Moore, Regional Forester for the Southwest United States, and congressmen Judy Chu, Los Angeles County Supervisor-elect Hilda Solis, Janice Rutherford, San Bernardino Board of Supervisors Chairperson. Local politicians and wilderness advocates rounded out the panel, with Victor Diaz, chair of the Friends of the Angeles group, as the sole “user group” representative.

Also in the room were Tom Contreras, Supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, as well as Jody Noiron, Supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, and all of their respective district rangers. In fact there were more Forest Service staff and volunteers on hand than any event or public meeting I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The auditorium was packed to capacity, with over 200 people unable to enter the room because room capacity has been reached. The WIlderness Society and San Gabriel Mountains Forever group were offering free buses to the meeting, helping explain the huge turnout.

We learned from Tom Tidwell that a number of improvements will be happening in 2015, including new staff hires, new signage and other improvements to the forest. Trail Crews from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Urban Youth League are out continuing to restore and repair trails.

The panel were each asked a single orchestrated question by Oscar Gonzales, California State Executive Director of the Farm Services Agency, who also flew out from Washington DC. Their answers were well-orchestrated, mostly singing the potential praises of a National Monument. There were no specific plans or proposals revealed. Only Janice Rutherford from San Bernardino County asked the important questions: how will this be managed, what is the management plan, how will this be funded, how will economic development (for areas such as Wrightwood), recreation and conservation be balanced and impacted. Most importantly, why is this happening so suddenly with no outreach or input to her community?

I could ask the same… why no outreach to our community (of mountain bikers)?

In fact, for all the talk of how this process is starting, there was not even an opportunity to ask questions, and oversized postcards were the only means given to submit anonymous comments. There are no resources or commenting options available online.

After the meeting, in my conversations with the wilderness advocates, and with Tom TIdwell by Jenny from Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, we were given some verbal assurances: That the Forest Service would continue to manage the proposed National Monument, and that the intent is to continue to allow all forms of recreation currently allowed. These verbal assurances, while comforting, came with a caveat of “no guarantees.”

The stature of the dignitaries in town for this theater of support that there has to have been some very high-level discussions and planning going on behind the scenes. But for this meeting, the first real public outreach, nobody was able to refer to a specific plan, the language of the proclamation, nor discuss the ulterior motives of those behind the plan.

For that we need to dig a little further into the history of the efforts to “protect” the San Gabriel Mountains. In 2003 Hilda Solis and Barbara Boxer introduced the San Gabriel Watershed Study, to determine the area’s suitability for a National Recreation Area. Separately, The Congressionally authorized Rim of the Valley Study has been taking place over a similar time span. Most recently, the four Southern California National Forests were charged with re-assessing and amending their management plan, with a greater emphasis on protecting the landscape for threatened and endangered species habitat protection. We are still waiting on the final outcome of that land management plan amendment, but as of our last meetings, the Fish Canyon area north of Castaic was being proposed as a Recommended Wilderness. Additionally, David Drier introduced a wilderness bill in 2011, and Congressman Buck McKeon is currently considering another.

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever group, with close ties to the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, have been lobbying hard for additional resources and protection for the San Gabriel Mountains.

Congressman Judy Chu has introduced two bills, one to create a National Recreation Area, the other to declare many thousands of acres of new Wilderness, including Condor Peak, Fish Canyon, Red Mountain and other areas. The Forest Service’ own Land Management Plan amendments determined that Condor Peak and Red Mountain were a) not suitable for wilderness protection, and b) would be provided little if any additional “protection” by a Wilderness designation. We have to ask why does Chu’s bill ask for these additional wilderness areas that have been fought over and removed from previous wilderness legislation, and found unsuitable? Our official comments on that plan reflected this. Her National Recreation Area bill was similarly vague on specifics, and we thought, premature.

Frustration with the lack of congressional support for those bills is what supposedly drove Chu to petition the White House for a National Monument declaration, which bypasses congress and the debate and scrutiny it would receive there. The President, under the Antiquities Act, can declare a National Monument without the support of Congress.

At this time we simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision as to whether the National Monument is a good idea that will help Forest visitors, or one that will just add an additional layer of bureaucracy. The way some of the panel gushed about the plan, one could be led to believe that the declaration would instantly take care of overflowing trash, lack of bathrooms and facilities, trail maintenance, graffiti and other problems. But there has been no talk of how much, if any, additional funding this would bring, now how it will be managed and implemented.

We’d like to see the San Gabriel Mountains receive a new influx of funding and staff. We’d like to see better services and infrastructure needed to protect the mountains, and continue to allow us to recreate responsibly. A National Monument may in fact be the vehicle to get us there. We simply don’t have enough detailed information to make that decision.

We plan to meet with congress members whose districts include portions of the San Gabriel Mountains, as well as the conservationists that are lobbying hard for this. Until we have some face-to-face time with these people, and have answers to our questions, we must remain officially neutral, while at the same time being guardedly optimistic for the future of our beloved mountains.

President’s Message: The Station Fire

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

20110401-Station_Fire_sign_burning_3It has been almost five years since the Station Fire was set by arsonists along Highway 2 near the base of Mount Lukens. I was there on August 26, 2009 when it started. I was also there last week when the Station Fire General Closure Order expired. This opened up Strawberry Peak loop, a trail system that has been the focus of several different groups for the past eighteen months. Though it’s a significant milestone, there is much more to be done.

Mountain Bike Magazine Station Fire

Mountain Bike Magazine Station Fire

This takes me back to a June 2010 Mountain Bike Magazine article about the Station Fire. While the magazine is no longer published, a copy of the story is archived on our web site. Reading it will help you realize what has been accomplished since.

We all wish that things could have happened faster, but the assumptions of the article have held up. Matt Lay/Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA), and I were featured in the article as mountain bikers on a mission to help restore the trails. Both CORBA and the MWBA have lived up to that promise, with many trails affected by the fire now open due (at least in part) to our efforts. We have to thank our volunteers, our members, and REI for their generous support, all of whom helped make it possible.

Of course, mountain bikers were not alone in the effort to restore trails. Many nonprofit groups, trail user groups, and individual volunteers continue to make significant contributions to restoration and maintenance. Professional crews including Bellfree Contractors and the LA Conservation Corps have also been involved.

As mentioned,  the work is not yet done. The general closure expired and was replaced by a much more manageable list of closed trails. Among them are several fire roads and at least two local mountain biking favorites: a section of the Gabrielino Trail and the Ken Burton Trail. CORBA and the MWBA have pending work plans for both trails, and the Forest Service is working to reopen the fire roads. Stay tuned.

And there will always be a need to do trail maintenance, above and beyond restoration efforts.

Trails don’t maintain themselves. Join us.

- Steve Messer