Bill for California’s San Gabriel Mountains would protect “backyard” for millions

Within an hour’s drive of millions of people, the San Gabriel Mountains offer an unconventional Southern California “backyard”--miles of wild terrain including majestic mountain peaks, clear rivers and countless recreation opportunities for urban communities that might otherwise not have access to nature. 

Unfortunately, the San Gabriels' great accessibility also makes it highly vulnerable to wear and tear. A bill introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) on June 12 aims to better safeguard this area, including the Angeles National Forest, a portion in the San Bernardino National Forest and lower stretches of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, preserving some 615,000 acres of stunning land as a national recreation area. This is expected to be an important part of the strategy to fight Southern California’s growing obesity and diabetes crises. 

Ask President Obama to protect the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument

“We applaud Congresswoman Chu for her strong commitment to preserving  outstanding natural areas and improving outdoor recreation opportunities in the nation’s most populous county,” said Dan Smuts, The Wilderness Society’s senior regional director for California. “This legislation represents  more than 10 years of efforts to  protect the remarkable San Gabriel Mountains for present and future generations to enjoy.”

Lately, Congress has been lax in its responsibility to America’s wildlands. A recent report found that the House and Senate have stopped moving even legislation with broad local support, leaving many bills in limbo. We hope that places like the San Gabriel Mountains soon get the protection they deserve.

Take a look at what makes the San Gabriel Mountains so special:

Credit: Brad Schelton.

The San Gabriel Mountains form a natural boundary between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, and have become an icon of the American west. The range contains some of the region’s most beautiful scenery, as well as habitat for Nelson’s bighorn sheep, California condors, mountain lions, spotted owls and more.

Credit: Brad Schelton.

The San Gabriel Mountains are tremendously popular among hikers in search of a challenging climb and a great panoramic view. As the above photo attests, the higher elevations are appropriately snowy in the winter time, despite the range’s proximity to sunny Los Angeles.

Credit: Michael E. Gordon (www.MichaelGordon.com).

Mount San Antonio (or Mount Baldy) is the tallest mountain in the San Gabriels range (and Los Angeles County) at a little over 10,000 feet. On a clear day, you can see much of Southern California from its summit (conversely, the mountain can be spied from much of the surrounding area).  

Credit: Nevin, flickr.

The mountain range is the signature feature of the Angeles National Forest, an outdoor gem covering 700,000 acres. Elevation in this diverse stretch of chaparral, pine, fir and mountain crags ranges from 1,200 to more than 10,000 feet.

Credit: Rennett Stowe, flickr.

As one of the few remaining open spaces in the region, Angeles National Forest is a vital refuge for people who don’t get to spend much time in nature. Millions of people visit the national forest every year, but this accessibility also makes the range vulnerable to  irresponsible recreational use. Those who visit the Angeles National Forest might find too few rangers and inadequate visitor facilities. Rep. Chu’s bill can address many of these issues.  

Credit: Michael E. Gordon (www.MichaelGordon.com).

The West Fork of the San Gabriel River, along with the North and East Forks, provides clean drinking water for communities downstream as well as a popular destination for fishing, hiking and camping. Under the bill, parts of these stretches would be protected as a wild and scenic river. The national forest as a whole provides one-third of Los Angeles County’s drinking water.

Credit: Annette Kondo.

Enjoying the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. Especially due to their close proximity to Los Angeles, which is densely populated yet has few intra-city parks, the San Gabriels are an important part of the strategy to fight Southern California’s growing obesity and diabetes crises. The area is already popular among cyclists, hikers and anglers, but improved upkeep of visitor facilities and conservation of the area itself would provide much needed outdoor access for local residents.

Credit: Steve Berardi, flickr.

The existing San Gabriel Wilderness’ north-facing slopes, which are within the boundaries of the area proposed for new protection, include some of the area’s largest forests of big cone Douglas fir and live oaks.

Credit: Freddie Duncan via Wilderness.net.

The existing Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness, to the north of San Gabriel Wilderness and also within the proposed national recreation area, is a popular place to catch stunning views of the San Gabriels and walk scenic trails within easy driving distance of Los Angeles..

Credit: Tony Hall, flickr.

The existing Sheep Mountain Wilderness is 42,160 acres of rugged terrain and crystal clear rivers and streams within the area specified in the bill. Three of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriels can be found within its limits--Pine and Iron Mountains and Dawson Peak, each exceeding 8,000 feet in elevation. Mount Baldy (or Mount San Antonio) lies on the protected area’s easternmost border..

Credit: yosoydemichigan, flickr.

Water is a big part of what makes this area unique, and a big draw for anglers. Much of picturesque Cattle Canyon, a tributary of the San Gabriel River’s east fork, is contained in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, providing a popular but less-strenuous hike for outdoor adventurers. At certain points, Mount Baldy can be seen in the distance.

Credit: Raul, flickr.

Smaller than nearby wildernesses in the potential national recreation area, the existing Cucamonga Wilderness is nonetheless an irreplaceable chunk of Southern California nature, containing some of the rare alpine landscape in the San Gabriels. Along with 18 miles of walking trails, the wilderness provides habitat for deer, bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep