We members of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy have three goals: to preserve open space in Claremont's hillsides for future generations, to ensure access to it and to help create a continuous wilderness corridor along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
This wilderness corridor - along with the sections of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers stretching into the western Puente Hills - is designated to become the San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area. The secretary of the Interior Department made the official recommendation last month after a decade-long study by the National Park Service. We strongly support this proposal.
It would add federal resources to the severely underfunded National Forest Service, which manages (and would continue to manage) the Angeles National Forest. It would produce efficient collaboration between the National Park Service and National Forest Service to achieve the goals for recreation, education and conservation that we all desire. And it would bring technical and financial assistance to local governments and agencies responsible for the foothills, while maintaining local control.
If Congress adopts the recommendation, we will see coordination of resources throughout the area instead of limited and disconnected local initiatives. We may see more rangers and educational programs; more restrooms and picnic areas; clearer signs and maps; stronger control of crime, litter and vandalism; public transportation to popular destinations; better protection of sensitive and endangered species; and more extensive linkages of wildlife habitats and hiking trails throughout the region.
The next step is for our legislators - Rep. Judy Chu, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer - to introduce bills in the House and Senate. Local agencies and individuals must stay involved in the process. Several key issues need to be worked out. The current recommendation proposes that the San Gabriel National Recreation Area be a branch of the existing Santa Monica National Recreation Area; however it may be more efficient to create a separate entity. The current recommendation supports local control, but in the legislative process, that control may be eroded. It is also critical that recreational use be balanced with protection of watershed, habitat and wildlife, particularly for sensitive and endangered species.
Over 70 percent of Los Angeles County's open space is in the San Gabriels, 33 percent of its water comes from them, and 3.5 million of us visit the area each year. This issue is too important to be stuffed in a government official's drawer.
The best places to look for more information are the web site for San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a coalition of environmental groups supporting the National Recreation Area designation, and the National Park Service's page on San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains-Special Resource Study. We urge readers to become informed and to write their local newspapers and legislators to keep up the momentum.
- Lissa Peterson, Claremont