Agency revising restrictions for visitors, seeking public input
February 03, 2002
By Roy LaBomme
Stretching from Monterey to Mexico, the national forests of Southern
California are used by millions every year in search of urban
Their lakes, streams, campsites and miles of trails and roads lure
campers, hikers, mountain bikers, off-roaders and others.
But the resources of these forests are not boundless, say forest
officials and conservationists, and their increased use is putting
their health in jeopardy.
In an effort to reverse this trend and better balance protecting the
forest with its enjoyment, the U.S. Forest Service is revising the
15-year-old documents that govern how the 3.8 million acres are used.
"There is an urgency because the population is demanding more from
the forest," said Gail Wright, U.S. Forest Service public affairs
officer. "We have more demand from public use. We also have more
species to protect."
The revision of the Forest Land and Resource Management Plans, or
Forest Plans, began last year for all four of the national forests in
Southern California -- the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San
Bernardino National Forests.
When completed in 2004, it will redefine what all users can and can't
do for the next 10 to 15 years.
The need to update the plans became apparent in 1999, when a
four-year study showed that an increase in use by public, government
and commercial users was threatening the health of the forests.
From 1989 to 1999, the number of visitors to the four forests had
risen steadily, while the number of animal and plant species listed
as threatened or endangered went from 17 to 59, according to the
Today, there are 62 threatened or endangered species struggling for
survival in the forests -- 16 of these in the Angeles, up from five
in 1987, Wright said.
To update the plans, the Forest Service is holding public meetings
and workshops. Two meetings in the San Gabriel Valley have been held
Wright, who helps conduct the meetings, is encouraging the public to
"This is probably the best time to get involved in the process," she
says. "These are public lands. They're there for public use. Public
participation will assure that the desires and interests of the
public are reflected in the revision process."
Tim Allyn, the Sierra Club's Southern California wilderness
organizer, is one member of the public who is determined to have his
opinion reflected in the new plan.
He attended both meetings.
"Our national forests began as wilderness -- undeveloped, natural
areas," Allyn says. "But now, we see public lands around the nation
being given away to the highest bidder. We want to keep the forest
looking like a forest, so that future generations can enjoy what past
Allyn is the Los Angeles-area organizer for the California Wild
Heritage Campaign, a coalition of four organizations -- including the
Sierra Club -- representing more than 200 groups and businesses
The coalition wants to increase the area of Wilderness in the Angeles
National Forest by 100,000 acres -- from 80,000 to 180,000, Allyn
Congressionally designated Wilderness areas are the most restricted
areas in the national forest system, say Forest Service officials. In
general, only pedestrians and horseback riders are allowed in, not
mountain bikes or motorized vehicles.
Five areas in the San Gabriel River Ranger District have been
proposed for Wilderness status: Cucamonga, Roberts Canyon, Sheep
Mountain, and the East and West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
These proposals have been the most contentious issue at the meetings,
Wright said, because if passed they would reduce recreational
opportunities for some users.
Mountain bike and off-highway vehicle enthusiasts are flocking to the
meetings in hopes of preventing that from happening.
"There are a lot of areas -- that are currently not designated as
Wilderness -- that are being proposed for Wilderness," said Mike
Bishop, an avid off-roader. "There are no new OHV areas proposed. All
we are trying to do is hang on -- by the skin of our teeth -- to the
areas we have."
Bishop, 37, is president of the Azusa Canyon Off-Road Association, a
13-year-old, grass-roots organization with a membership that
fluctuates from 50 to 300 members -- depending on the seasons.
Riders of trucks, jeeps, SUVs, ATVs and motorcycles, they frequent
the San Gabriel OHV Area in the San Gabriel Canyon area above Azusa,
one of only two OHV designated areas in the Angeles Forest.
Bishop, who has also attended both meetings, says OHV enthusiasts are
as concerned about the environment as everyone else. The majority of
them, he says, are environmentally responsible, staying in designated
areas and following rules designed to minimize any effect the
vehicles might have on the surrounding habitats.
The maps outlining the boundaries of the proposed Wilderness and
other restrictive areas are confusing and could lead to the closing
of the OHV site, Bishop says.
"I support (groups) that want to expand wilderness areas, as long as
they don't exclude the multiuses of the land," Bishop said. "The
Forest Plan is a multiple-use plan, so it should provide for multiple
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