Support grows to ask Biden to expand San Gabriel Mountains National Monument – Press Enterprise
With the House of Representatives leaderless and legislation going nowhere, supporters of a bill to expand the 346,177-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by one-third are looking to the White House.
On Oct. 10, the ninth anniversary of the day the monument was designated by then-President Barack Obama, supporters stepped up their game. The effort to convince President Joe Biden to use his powers to add acreage to the southwestern part of the national monument now includes support from 55 elected officials and the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Santa Clarita, and South Pasadena, which have passed resolutions in support.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla are asking Biden to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 that grants the power of the Executive Branch to preserve national lands through a presidential proclamation. They want the president to add 109,167 of federal forest land to the monument. The act would prevent new roads or mining on the protected land, preserving it for habitat and recreation.
“I hope that President Biden will recognize the importance of these lands by designating the western Angeles National Forest aspart of the National Monument,” wrote Chu in a prepared statement.
Belén Bernal, executive director of Nature for All, one of the groups supporting the expansion and working to improve recreation in the monument, said supporters have backing from the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“They want to see this happen,” she said on Thursday, Oct. 12. “They are happy to see such strong support at the local level.”
Just before Obama came to the San Gabriel Valley to sign the proclamation nine years ago, some of the most historic, and most-used trails in the southwestern part of the Angeles National Forest were removed from the monument map — to the dismay of Chu and others.
Many today say Biden should complete the vision for a monument that protects antiquities in the forest which were excluded from getting monument status.
“With an expanded national monument, we can include critical natural, historical, and cultural sites that were excluded, as well as some of the most exemplary, popular, and — most importantly—accessible sites for outdoor recreation of all kinds,” said Casey Schreiner, founder of Modern Hiker and a board member for Nature for All.
The proposed addition includes forest sections just above the cities of Monrovia, Arcadia and Sierra Madre and up to Santa Clarita. The site of the Mount Lowe Railway in the mountains above Pasadena, and trails leading to Mt. Wilson that were part of the Great Hiking Area of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, would be included as monument historical areas.
“We’ve all seen pictures of women in their petticoats riding up on the Mount Lowe Railway with views of the mountains,” said Daniel Rossman, deputy California director of The Wilderness Society and a Pasadena resident.
Historical areas to be added also include Big Tujunga Canyon, the Upper Arroyo Seco area, Switzer’s Camp, Millard Canyon and Eaton Canyon — trails and historical spots that are part of the region’s hiking lore within the San Gabriel Mountains.
Chantry Flat, the second-most popular access point in the Angeles used by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year for hiking and picnicking also would be added. The area, hit by a severe wildfire and resulting mudslides, has been closed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Recently, the closure was extended through May 2024.
“Not only is Chantry a gateway to experience the wonder of the San Gabriels, but for so many, it is the first time they experience the wild. It’s a significant recreational portal for hundreds of thousands of people and it is really critical,” Rossman said.
The addition also would reach into the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, an important watershed and source for drinking water. The San Gabriel Mountains provide one-third of L.A. County’s drinking water. In the far western portion, the addition would include parts of the Angeles National Forest near Sunland and in Placerita Canyon, next to Santa Clarita.
While there’s no money attached to a presidential proclamation, the original monument designation attracted attention from private investors.
Soon after Obama signed the monument into existence during his visit to the San Gabriel Valley, donations of about $3 million flowed to the National Forest Foundation. It also received $500,000 in a combined total from the Annenberg Foundation, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and the California Endowment. A year later, Coca-Cola made a $900,000 donation.
Supporters of an expanded monument say the expansion will help address the climate and biodiversity crises by protecting important habitat and wildlife corridors for black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and mule deer, as well as contribute to state and federal goals to conserve 30% of public lands and waters by 2030.
But pushback came last year from the state of Utah and two Republican-leaning rural counties that sued the Biden administration over the president’s decision to restore two sprawling national monuments on rugged lands sacred to Native Americans that former President Donald Trump had downsized. Trump’s decision opened parts of the monuments up for mining, drilling and other development.
In the Utah lawsuit, plaintiffs argued that the Biden administration interpreted the Antiquities Act in an overly broad manner and disregarded its original intent: protecting particular historical or archaeological sites.
Bernal said she’s pushing for elected leaders to invite Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, to tour the proposed monument expansion areas.
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