The San Gabriel Mountains, one of the Inland Empire’s recreational backyards, has long been used for camping and hiking during the warm seasons and snowboarding and skiing during the winter. Recently the fight to protect and manage more of these mountains for future generations has picked up traction—from an unlikely source. Following a meeting late last month between San Gabriel Mountains Forever—a coalition of groups including Friends of the River, the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and others—and Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), the congressman is now on board to help protect these peaks.
“He had a very productive meeting with San Gabriel Mountains Forever,” Jo Maney, a representative from Dreier’s office, tells the Weekly. “So now, he is in the process of drafting some legislation that would protect recreational opportunities in the San Gabriel Mountains.”
The mountains—which fall under Dreier’s 26th congressional district—straddle western San Bernardino County and are home to lost-hiker-central Mount Baldy. Much of the area is also a part of the Angeles National Forest (ANF). San Gabriel Mountains Forever has been fighting to categorize more of the mountains as “wilderness,” a category that would put them under the protection of the Wilderness Act, a federal law enacted to protect sensitive areas from being spoiled by development, industry and other pitfalls of modern society.
According to Daniel Rossman of San Gabriel Mountains Forever and the Los Angeles regional associate for Wilderness Society, “ANF is 665,000 acres in size and 23 percent (155,000 acres) is road-less and 12 percent of the forest (81,924 acres) is designated as wilderness.”
Getting the Republican congressman’s backing has become significant—especially in light of the fact that the GOP’s reputation for conservation is often overshadowed by its support for oil drilling in the Arctic and former President Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocols.
Rossman says 22,600 acres proposed as wilderness lie in Dreier’s district, while an additional 10,400 acres is located in the San Bernardino National Forest portion of his district.
Currently, no one is proposing to develop the mountains into a parking lot, but this newly bolstered effort to preserve the region underscores the need to shore up conservation aims sooner rather than later.
“There’s not a current proposal to build a new road going this way or that way,” Rossman says. “. . . So, part of the areas we are looking at aren’t under immediate threat because we’ve been working to make sure that there is a balance of needs being served by the forest.”
San Gabriel Forever recently released the results of a public poll showing that a majority of citizens support their efforts. According to the poll, a “proposal to permanently protect federally-owned land and rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains is strongly supported by 75 percent of voters in local communities.”
Rossman adds that their preservation efforts would have little effect on spending more public dollars—which would likely be a difficult sell to taxpayers during these economic doldrums.
“The way that wilderness is managed doesn’t require a significant increase in staff and budget,” he says. “So it would be relatively unaffected. There is a long-term vision for bringing more resources to the forest, which could be done with something like a National Recreation Area (NRA) designation.” An NRA is what protects Lake Mead and other water recreation areas.
There’s also a study bill, first initiated by then-Rep. Hilda Solis (now Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Labor) in 2003, that is researching the natural and cultural significance of the San Gabriel Mountains to make further recommendations to Congress on the best and most appropriate management techniques. The public’s input is sought through Oct. 30.
Final recommendations aren’t expected until next year and won’t be presented to Congress until 2011,” says Juana Torris of San Gabriel Forever and regional representative for the Sierra Club.
The draft alternatives as well as public meeting times can be viewed on the study’s website at www.nps.gov/pwro/sangabriel.