Chu, Schiff question the National Park Service study on San Gabriel wilderness
Rep. Judy Chu, the champion of a controversial proposal to carve a National Recreation Area out of the Angeles National Forest, the Puente Hills and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers expressed concerns over a final study that reduced the scope of the project, excluded the area’s most precious resource and awkwardly links the region to the westside of Los Angeles.
Chu, a Democratic lawmaker from El Monte who for the last two years has taken the baton for this project from former La Puente-area Rep. Hilda Solis after she went on to serve as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Labor, said she will hold roundtable meetings in the region as part of a quest to find out “what happened” to the original idea to provide a strong National Park Service presence in the popular forest. The purpose was to help an underfunded U.S. Forest Service better manage the Angeles, which receives 3.2 million visitors a year, the second-most visited national forest in the nation.
Instead, the NPS report reduced the scope from 581,500 acres to about 50,000 acres, and also called their proposal “The San Gabriel Unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,” linking the San Gabriel Mountain foothills to a mountain region located at least 40 miles away and headquartered in Calabasas, well west of the 405 Freeway.
“The San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed have diverse characteristics and a unique ecosystem that does not exist anywhere else in the United States. They are distinct and far removed from the Santa Monica Mountains,” Chu wrote in a prepared statement released Thursday.
Burbank-area Rep. Adam Schiff also objected to the tie-in.
“I am concerned that creating a separate and noncontiguous unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for this region will create logistical and administrative challenges,” he wrote in a prepared statement.
For example, the draft study refers to the San Gabriel Mountains as “the fastest growing mountains in the world” with unique ecosystems from riparian, to montane, sub-alpine and desert. The Mt. Wilson area was signaled out for its historical findings, namely where scientists first discovered the universe was expanding. The San Dimas Experimental Forest is a laboratory for discovering the relationship between mountains and precipitation and is also designated as a Biosphere Reserve by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet, despite qualifying for a National
Recreation Area, it was left out.
However, the opposite is true of the Puente/Whittier Hills. The study says the Puente Hills contains one of the “best remaining stands of California walnut-dominated forest and woodlands south of Ventura County.” Just off the San Gabriel River is the Pio Pico Mansion, where the last Mexican governor of Alta California was born.
Chu is referring to the Department of the Interior and National Park Service’s final report on the subject released Wednesday afternoon, which was markedly different than their draft proposals circulated from 2005 to 2012. The final report rejected Alternative D, which was preferred by the NPS itself until recently, included most of the Angeles National Forest and called for the NPS “to take a lead role in management of the partnership” with the USFS.
Instead, the final report only includes foothills from Pasadena to Claremont and into western San Bernardino County, and the urban portions of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, mostly concrete river channels. The newly proposed National Recreation Area also would stretch from Duarte to Pico Rivera and includes the western portion of the Puente/Whittier Hills.
The NPS described the new boundaries as somewhat of a mishmash of doing nothing, Alternative A, whereby the U.S Forest Service would maintain sole management of the forest, and just creating a river-based NRA, Alternative C.
“That is a question in my mind. I want to know what changed. Why was there this hybrid that was chosen,” Chu asked. “I would like to know what happened. ”
The only way the two federal agencies can work together in the Angeles is through an obscure program called Service First Authority. The NPS said this is one way to move some NPS park rangers into the heavily used Angeles Forest areas such as the East and West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
But Chu criticized this management proposal. “That is an unknown,” she said. “I don’t know if that has ever been used on a project of this scale. Visitors need – and deserve – additional resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed, and I intend to do my part to ensure that happens. ”
She will be hosting townhall meetings to allow the public to ask questions of the NPS, as well as roundtables with stakeholder groups, she said. No dates have been set for the additional meetings.