San Gabriel Valley Tribune


San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Wednesday, September 17, 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

The Future THE FUTURE

A VIEW of the Angeles National Forest from the Blue Ridge Campground belies the problems facing the forest. The future fo the forest is seemingly in jeopardy, in spite of federal plans to address recurring problems. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)


Saving the forest a tall task
Proposals lean toward recreational use

By Lisa Faught and Diana Roemer, Staff Writers

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- The future health of the Angeles National Forest remains in doubt despite strong support from environmental groups and the U.S. Forest Service.

Overwhelming pressure from millions of visitors continues to hamper the ability of officials and volunteer groups to maintain a healthy forest.

But there's hope.

Supporters public and private are making headway in reversing the trend of environmental degradation; they want to leave a vigorous natural resource for future generations.

The trick is trying to find a balance, said Gloria Silva, public affairs specialist for the forest planning team.

"When you're talking about ... millions of people affected, that's a challenge,' Silva said.

Bill Hoghead
Bill Hoghead, a member of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, walks btween a gap in a cedar, cut down during last year's Curve Fire above Crystal Lake in the Angeles National Forest. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
The Forest Service is updating its guidelines for managing the four national forests in Southern California the Angeles, Los Padres, Cleveland and San Bernardino. Every 10 to 15 years, the Forest Service embarks on what it calls the Forest Plan Revision, an intense review of zoning based on the new issues the forests face.

The guidelines will map out various uses of the forests: Where power lines can go, where wilderness should remain untouched, where people can play, and where cell phone towers can be built.

Volunteers lend a hand

While the planning of the forest's future is left to the Forest Service, it is volunteer groups that fill gaps left by insufficient government resources.

Ben White volunteers with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders. The group has been working in Crystal Lake two or three weekends each month to remove trees downed during last year's Curve Fire, which, along with the Williams Fire, burned about 60,000 acres.

"We are doing a service for people who use trails and facilities,' White said.

Bill Reeves of the Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps said he started volunteering in 1995 when he noticed there were no Forest Service workers on trails and near streams.

He likened the forest to a town without police officers.

Fish
CALIFORNIA Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Forest Service biologists and volunteers conduct a fish popluation survey along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
He and a group of fishing buddies formed the resource group. The Forest Service gave them radios and uniforms and they continue to raise money from other groups to fund their work.

Another group, the Angeles Volunteer Association, staffs the forest's visitor centers and patrols the forest on horseback on weekends.

A 15-year plan

Despite healthy volunteerism, the responsibility for the forest's future lies with the Forest Service and its far-reaching plan.

Officials first hashed out a plan for the four forests in the 1980s. Back then, the goal was to step up production of forest resources, such as minerals, timber and oil, said Ron Pugh, team leader of the Forest Plan Revision.

But science and public perception have changed the role of the forests, he said.

"The issues we're looking at have changed quite a bit,' Pugh said. "The old plan was really based on commodity output, by and large, the production of things in the forest. The focus now is looking at what constitutes a healthy forest.'

This time around, the Forest Service is facing an increased strain on its resources, he said.

About 3.5 million people visit the 690,000-acre forest every year. And the results are taking a toll.

The most visible problem is litter. In San Gabriel Canyon alone, forest workers pick up between 150 and 175 tons of trash per year.

Other impacts: fires set by careless campers, trail erosion from hikers and bikers, graffiti on trees and infrastructure, and a soiled San Gabriel River.

And with Los Angeles County's population growing by more than a half-million people every 10 years, there appears to be no end in sight.

Proposals abound

The Forest Service also is taking input from the public on future uses of the forest.

To date, the Forest Service has received more than 18,000 comments for the four forests, culled from public meetings, letters and e-mails.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

The Angeles Nation Forest has friends. But it can alway use more. If you're eager to help out, here are some forest-friendly groups:
Trailbuilders
Volunteers with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders remove fallen trees from the Windy Gap Trail above Crystal Lake. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
Everyone is pushing a different agenda, said Clem Lagrosa, who has served as the intermediary between the Angeles National Forest and the "core team' charged with sifting through all the forest planning information.

Homeowners want to keep their cabins in the forests; off-road enthusiasts want more spots for driving in the mud; conservationists want to protect as much wildlife as possible; and mountain bikers want access to more trails.

One of the proposals calls for building a high-speed rail line right through the forest, or perhaps under it, but the Forest Service has yet to see maps, Lagrosa said.

Another idea involves building an aerial ride from Chilao campground along the mountain ridge to Mount Waterman, "like the big ride at Disneyland,' Lagrosa said.

But most of the proposals tend more toward recreational land use. They range from setting alternating days for equestrians and mountain bikers to avoid conflicts on trails, to expanding wilderness areas, which allow the least impact to the land, Lagrosa said.

Three swaths of land are already zoned for wilderness on the east side of the forest - 36,118 acres in San Gabriel Wilderness, 41,200 acres in Sheep Mountain Wilderness and 4,400 acres in Cucamonga Wilderness, which straddles the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests.

Any future projects will be dictated by the zoning changes in the 15-year plan, though.

"When we get done, we'll have standards that govern what you can and can't do in the forest,' said Kathy Peterson, spokeswoman for the Forest Service.

Those standards, forest officials hope, will make for a healthier forest in 2103 than we see today.

"The role this forest plays to the survival of the L.A. Basin is huge,' said Forest Supervisor Jody Cook. "Socially, it's where people go to play. Environmentally, it supplies water to the basin. Economically, there's 2,000 special uses more than any other forest in the country.'


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