San Gabriel Valley Tribune


San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Monday, September 15, 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

Forest dwellers have created their share of problems

By Diana L. Roemer

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- It's easy to see why people want to live in the Angeles National Forest. It's beautiful. It's peaceful. It's cool.

But some forest dwellers are building in flood zones and are too close to rivers, U.S. Forest Service officials say. Homes built in the forest are in the path of wildfires and, when tucked into winding mountain roads, make blazes difficult to fight.

The people who live in these homes disrupt the lives of creatures who need the natural water source more than humans.

When forests burn, ruins can sit for months on end, a hazard to creatures that wander through them.

And if rains fall, things get worse. All that burned debris -- including propane tanks, pots and pans, kitchen sinks, even cars -- ends up in rivers.

San Dimas Canyon is a case in point. After it was ravaged by last year's Curve and Williams fires, floods followed. Debris inside the burned homes ended up in canyon streams.

Sixty cabins out of 77 in San Dimas Canyon and 50 structures in other parts of the forest burned, said Forest Supervisor Jody Cook.

Debris
UNSIGHTLY DEBRIS from burned-out cabins litters the area next to the creek in San Dimas Canyon. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
"Never before have so many recreational residences -- 110 structures -- gone in one fell swoop. We're setting precedents," Cook said, adding decisions on rebuilding will come soon.

Today, there are 500 homes permitted inside the Angeles National Forest's boundaries, many deep in the forest, said Recreational Lands Officer Raina Fulton.

Homes began to dot the forest during the Great Depression. In 1987, the Forest Service said "no more because people were -- and still are -- taking liberties with the land," Fulton said.

Homes meant to be weekend getaways have quietly turned into primary residences, forcing the Forest Service to firm its policies, especially in the aftermath of fires.

Many forest dwellers wear out roads, uproot sensitive plants and push creatures out.

But some people can live amid Mother Nature without destroying her.

Along the East Fork Road in the San Gabriel Canyon are camps Williams and Follows. People live there legally because the land is private. They have their own volunteer fire departments that help keep homes safe during the fires.

Besides renegade forest dwellers, there is the problem of sprawl. Developers push closer to the forest's boundaries with home developments.

Cook wants them slowed down. She sent officers to meetings about the 327 Mountain Cove homes built in Azusa, north of Sierra Madre Boulevard, off Highway 39.

"We showed up to the meetings and tried to have an effect about what some of the negatives would be ... of putting homes that close to the forest," Cook said. She said the homes could wash into the San Gabriel River if floods come.

More Debris
SOME DEBRIS from one of the 60 cabins burned in the fires last year litters the forest. After the fires, floods carried cabin debris into the river and streams. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
There are no buffer zones between houses and the forest. And the inability to adequately fight fires is the reason such homes should not be built, she said.

Other homes are coming, Cook says, especially on the north side of the San Gabriels, west of Highway 14.

"These developments going in ... you can jump from roof to roof and look into each other's bathrooms," Cook said.

The Forest Service, conservancies and cities find hope in the failure of some developers, like Denver-based NJD, Ltd., to build as they wish. That company lost two lawsuits it filed against foothill cities Glendora and San Dimas, both of which want to limit NJD's proposed developments on 400 foothill acres.

Grading is the issue in San Dimas and Glendora. Land has to be bulldozed and smoothed for homes, which would take out plants and animals.

NJD official Rick Jamison said the company will fight the lawsuits.

Fulton said areas above Bouquet Canyon, west of Highway 14 and in the Big Tujunga area near Wildwood Vogel Flats, are growing rapidly.

To Cook, so many homes paint a bleak picture for forest creatures. She said she cannot allow any activity to go on that endangers plants or animals.

"If I do, I go to jail. That's the law," she said.


-- Diana L. Roemer can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2105, or by e-mail at diana.roemer@sgvn.com.

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