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What does the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument mean for Claremont?

by Ted Trzyna

On October 19, President Barack Obama designated 346,177 acres of Angeles National Forest as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. At its southern end, the new monument shares a boundary with the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park; its eastern edge generally parallels Mt. Baldy Road.

It will be managed by the US Forest Service, which has been responsible for the national forest since it was created in 1892 to protect the mountains’ watersheds for water supply and flood control. Because of its protected status and ruggedness, most of the national forest has a relatively high degree of ecological integrity for an area next to a metropolitan area.

Representative Judy Chu, other members of congress, and many local leaders in the San Gabriel Valley had supported a larger national recreation area to be managed jointly by the Forest Service along with the National Park Service, which has more flexibility in using funds, and much more expertise in working in urban areas and providing services to visitors. However, this required action by congress, where it had no chance of being approved in the current political climate. The president acted under his authority to create national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act; these can protect lands as well as historic and natural features.  

At this point, it isn’t clear how much difference it will make by having a national monument superimposed on a national forest. That will depend on a planning and consultation process that will happen over the next three years.

Although foundations have pledged several million dollars for recreational and habitat improvement projects, a continuing flow of federal funds will be needed for improved law enforcement, resource protection, cleaning up litter and graffiti, trail maintenance, education and interpretation.

We in Claremont have a distinct interest in what happens in this new protected area, especially the part of it north of our city boundary. Improvements to trails at lower elevations would give us more places to hike—and could divert hikers away from the wilderness park. More visitors to the city could bring business to local stores—but also add to traffic. More staff and better facilities for education would benefit our schools and colleges.

Our city council, civic organizations and colleges should participate in the planning process, while we should continue to press over the longer term for a larger, congressionally designated national recreation area.

One little-known but intriguing part of the new national monument is the 17,000-acre San Dimas Experimental Forest, just to the north and east of Claremont. Closed to the public except by prior arrangement for research and educational purposes, it is a field laboratory for studies on chaparral and related ecosystems, including on watershed processes, fire, erosion, air pollution, and wildlife. Since it was established in 1933, most of it has been kept in near-pristine condition.

Last year, a small group of Claremonters associated with local colleges and civic groups were given a tour of the experimental forest. We were impressed by its mainly unrealized potential for learning in a setting that is nearby but seems a world apart.  

The San Gabriel Mountains offer much more than a striking backdrop to our city. The decisions to be made over the next three years will have consequences for many decades to come.

 

Ted Trzyna, president of InterEnvironment Institute, an affiliate of Claremont Graduate University, co-chairs the Landscapes and Natural Resources Committee of Claremont Heritage. He is the author of Urban Protected Areas (2014), at www.iucn-urban.org. These are his personal views.

 

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