By Steve Scauzillo
Shortly after the 2009 Station Fire burned through 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest, Supervisor Jody Noiron was reassigned amid pointed criticism of her handling of the largest fire in L.A. County history from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Earlier this month, Angeles Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras, the man who took her place, quietly resigned his post, leaving the most-visited national forest in the nation without a permanent supervisor for the second time in five years.
Unlike his predecessor, Contreras, known as a perfectionist and neat freak, was generally praised for his handling of the Powerhouse Fire near Santa Clarita and the Colby Fire above Glendora and Azusa during his watch. Both were contained quickly, limiting property damage.
Aside from effective wildfire management, Contreras will be known as the forest supervisor who ushered in a more tumultuous change: the dedication of 346,177 acres — about half of the Angeles National Forest — as a national monument by the president of the United States.
Contreras took great pride in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. But speculation remains that the monument status and the flood of management changes it brings from Washington and Northern California to the Angeles headquarters in Arcadia may not have included the veteran forester.
“He wanted to leave on a high note,” said Sherry Rollman, public affairs officer, who said Contreras took a position assisting the regional forester in Vallejo. He will retire this spring with 35 years in the USFS. He declined repeated requests for interviews.
Contreras came from the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California, first as interim and then he was named Angeles Forest Supervisor in August 2011. Rollman said he made up his mind to retire after President Barack Obama dedicated the monument in October during a visit to the San Gabriel Valley. His bio touts his coordination with the National Forest Foundation and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in restoring trails and campgrounds closed by the devastating Station Fire in Big Tujunga-Sunland.
In addition, Mike McIntyre, district ranger of the Los Angeles River Ranger District, has retired. McIntyre worked closely with volunteer groups who provide the manpower for forest improvement projects. He worked as an archaeologist on the Angeles before becoming district ranger.
“The loss of Mike McIntyre is a loss of experience on this forest,” said Glen Owens, cabin owner and president of the Big Santa Anita Canyon Historical Society. “This is an urban forest. It is a unique challenge.”
In addition, the Forest Service will fill three new positions: a volunteer coordinator, a partnership coordinator and an interpretive and conservation ranger. These positions were added as a result of extra funding from the monument.
Shane Jeffries, who came over from the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon, became interim monument manager in November but his assignment will expire next month. Daniel Lovato, deputy forest supervisor on the Angeles, is acting forest supervisor. John Thornton, district ranger for the San Gabriel River Ranger District, is acting deputy forest supervisor.
“Things are changing: slowly, but quickly at the same time,” Rollman said.
Challenges in management are twofold. The monument, created on Oct. 10, 2014, added new complexities to the forest, officially named in 1908 but set aside as a reserve in 1892. Also, the soon-to-be produced monument plan will emphasize reaching out to 15 million Southern Californians who live within a 90-minute drive of the monument. Of those, 48 percent are Latino, according to the Forest Service.
“The exciting part is to focus management on serving the diverse communities (of Southern California). That is the new challenge for the Angeles and all our public lands,” said Daniel Rossman, chairman of San Gabriel Mountains Forever.