San Gabriel Valley Tribune


San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Sunday, September 14, 2003

ARTICLES IN THIS SECTION

9/14/2003
- Under Siege
- Cartels growing pot in forest
- Forest at crossoads over public use
- Lake not so crystal
- Fire threat still high, officials say
- Facing Extinction
9/15/2003
- Masses and Messes
- A foul problem: garbage
- Groups spread blame for forest damage
- Forest dwellers have created their share of problems
9/16/2003
- 'Static' budget hinders forest
- Bad roads hinder vistor, fire vehicle access
- Adventure Pass raises funds, eyebrows
9/17/2003
- Saving the forest a tall task

SPECIAL REPORT: ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST

Facing Extinction
Dwindling numbers make survival difficult

By Lisa Faught

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- The population of mountain yellow-legged frogs at Little Rock Creek hovers around 20.

The endangered frog once lived all over Southern California, but now survives in just seven creeks -- five of them in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Its dwindling numbers are hard to explain. Biologists guess the frogs are either falling prey to rainbow trout not native to Southern California or running out of habitat. Or perhaps they are succumbing to something more worrisome, like trace pesticides in the environment.

"These frogs used to be everywhere, now they're only in seven known creeks. Something is going on," said Cindy Hitchcock, a biologist working for the U.S. Geological Survey. "The main reason to care about frogs is because they're an indicator species. They may indicate the environment is not safe for us, as well. It affects the frogs before it affects us."

In the last decade, the number of threatened and endangered species living in the Angeles National Forest has increased dramatically.

In 1980, the number of imperiled species was four, rising to six by 1990. Between 1990 and 2000, the figure jumped to 14.

The number is now 16, with two more proposed for federal listing and another 46 considered sensitive.

The increase is due partly to stepped-up legal action by environmentalists. In recent years, groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a number of lawsuits to add species to the federal list and set aside critical habitat for them.

But the growing number of imperiled species in Southern California is mainly caused by development, said Bill Brown, head biologist for the Angeles National Forest.

"Their habitat has consistently been removed, on almost a daily basis, with population growth expected to continue," Brown said.

bighorn
A YOUNG NELSON BIGHORN SHEEP waits for its mother near Highway 39 in the Angeles National Forest. They are considered sensitive; their population has decreased from 750 in 1980 to fewer than 100. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
Los Angeles County's population grew by about 600,000 from 1990 to 2000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means more housing developments in the Valley -- already nearly built out -- and more people flocking to the forest. In turn, wildlife gets crowded out.

To bring the populations back, the Forest Service works with several government agencies to monitor and study each species.

One species is the Santa Ana sucker. The Department of Fish and Game regularly surveys sections of the San Gabriel River for the threatened fish.

The East Fork of the river draws thousands of people every weekend, potentially harming the species, said Ray Ally, biologist for Fish and Game.

The trash left on banks at times blows into the water polluting its habitat and sediment from the wildfires washes down, clouding the water.

But worse, the hundreds of miniature dams along its length hamper the movement of the fish.

Ally once counted more than 300 manmade dams in a three-mile stretch on the East Fork, left behind by miners panning for gold and visitors seeking respite from the sun in pools of water.

"The dams are not supposed to be there," Ally said.

But sometimes the mission of protecting imperiled species is at odds with recreation in the forest. The difficulty is finding a balance between the two, Brown said.

For example, off-road vehicles were once allowed to drive up and down the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.

But the Forest Service has since limited their range to just two crossings to help protect the Santa Ana sucker, a threatened fish.

The Forest Service also closed a large swath of land in Little Rock recreation area on the north side to any visitors.

A population of endangered arroyo toads lives right in the creek near Basin Campground and the nearby OHV routes.

"We shut down an entire watershed. It was a drastic action," Brown said. "It's a challenge to reach a balance."


-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at lisa.faught@sgvn.com.

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