San Gabriel Mountains proposed for Monument Status

By Lois M. Shade

An estimated 400 people supporting and opposing the proposal for preservation of the San Gabriel Mountains flooded the Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center including a group arriving by bus wearing t-shirts indicating a group effort to support Rep. Judy Chu and monument status for the San Gabriels.

Monument status for the San Gabriel Mountains could happen with one quick signature by the President under the 1906 Antiquities Act if it is found federal lands in the San Gabriels contain historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, or objects of historic or scientific interest. Under the Act the President is to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The Act was designed to protect federal lands and resources quickly that were in danger of being destroyed or compromised, but in this instance concerns about adequate public notification of the proposal and a public hearing process have become paramount. Chu said she approached President Obama about designating the federal lands in the San Gabriel Mountains as a monument and he seemed open to the idea.
Thomas Contreras, Forest Supervisor, Angeles National Forest, provided opening remarks, introduction of panel members and special guests including representatives of County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Rep. Grace Napolitano, Rep. Adam Schiff and Senator Barbara Boxer. Not on the list, but in attendance, was Glendora Mayor Judy Nelson, Monrovia Mayor Pro Tem, Becky Shevlin, Rosemead Mayor Pro Tem, Margaret Clark, and State Senator Bob Huff’s representative, Tim Shaw, also member of La Habra City Council.
Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry advertised the meeting as a public discussion to “explore opportunities for enhancing access, recreational use and protection of scenic, cultural and historic areas of interest.” The panel of 10 representing youth groups, land management, preservation specialists and elected officials responded to one question each from Panel Facilitator, Oscar Gonzales, California State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency. No time reserved for public comment or questions.
Janice Rutherford, Supervisor, San Bernardino County, sat on the panel and when asked her thoughts on the proposal said, “It has been only days since we found out we will be included in this plan, a plan that has been in the works for a decade.” She said San Bernardino County is trying to understand the governing structure, the minerals report and how it will affect the business community and county residents. She added she doesn’t understand the rush to get this pushed through the hearing and approval process. She would like time to study this and to have hearings in Rancho Cucamonga and Wrightwood to hear her constituents’ opinions.
There have been two studies on the San Gabriel Mountains initiated about 10 years ago that many citizens found approximately a year ago with no announced public hearings on either one for citizen comments.
” San Gabriel Watershed & Mountains Special Resource Study 2003, put out by Department of Interior, Division of Park Service. This proposed the San Gabriel Mountains from Santa Clarita eventually out beyond the Rancho Cucamonga Wilderness area to Wrightwood would become part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and under the supervision of the Department of Interior, Park Services, if it met the following criteria: nationally significant natural or cultural resources, suitable and feasible addition to the Park System, and need for Park Service management.
” Technical Guide to Managing Ground Water Resources 2007, put out by Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry referred to as 2543, states the purpose is to provide guidance for implementing the Forest Service national ground water policy and use of ground water resources on NFS lands with a goal “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

As a result of those studies Rep. Chu created the National Recreation Area (NRA) legislation, HR 4858, establishing the structure for creating a management plan of the forest area and recreation areas. A 21-member committee, headed up by Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture would have 3 years to create a management plan for the San Gabriel Mountains. Those serving on that committee would be appointed and not directly elected by the people they would be representing. That legislation has not moved quickly through the Natural Resources Committee so creating monument status became more expeditious.

L.A. County Supervisor Elect Hilda Solis said what is being proposed allows inner city youth to experience this natural resource and provides increased recreation. Solis was asked what enhancements she envisioned for the area and what added recreational opportunities. Solis said she started looking at this with the Rivers & Mountains Conservancy in 1999. “This isn’t about the long arm of government but negotiation and establishing better relations with city councils and water agencies”.

Denis Bertone, Council Member, San Dimas, said local governments have to be involved in these decisions. As a member of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) he chaired the Environment Committee and oversaw the COG White Paper setting conditions for the approval and support of the NRA legislation. Those conditions have not been met and are not incorporated in HR 4858 including a water audit, definitive boundaries of the NRA, cities’ abilities to opt out of the area, and specific activities and private holdings that will not be impacted. Bertone said the COG supported the NRA legislation, but not all city councils have taken a support position and only 17 members of the COG out of 31 city members have supported Chu’s NRA.

Bertone also cited, as did the COG in their reports, former Congressman David Dreier’s support for this proposal in HR 113 in 2011. Dreier’s legislation, dedicated to the lost lives in the Station Fire, specifically proposed expansion of unmaintained wilderness areas by Forestry due to lack of funding causing increased fire potential but also documented current activities and private holdings would not be affected. He called for immediate adequate funding. Chu’s legislation does not. Forestry has said their budget has been cut the last three years in a row while they have been restoring trails and reforesting burned areas due to the Station Fire. They are hoping monument status will give them more funding.

Antiquities Act raises provides:
” National monument status on land with multiple uses could face restricted use.
” Broad rights to protect monument resources at the time of creation can include obtaining water
” It applies to lands owned or controlled by the federal government. Also states if objects to be preserved are on privately owned lands, the property “may be relinquished to the Government” and not clear whether that is voluntary or may include condemnation.
” Under President Clinton, using motorized and mechanized vehicles off-road is prohibited and under many new monument designations that may continue. Maintenance of existing facilities is a concern.
” Monument designation can limit or prohibit land uses, such as development [of needed infrastructure] or recreational uses

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to provide an environmental impact statement (EIS) reviewed by EPA to ensure adequate review and assessment of environmental impacts. No clear requirement for areas given monument status.

September 4, 2014

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