Environment & Science

Why a chunk of the San Gabriel Mountains was left out of the national monument

As part of President Obama's visit to Los Angeles he designated a portion of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest a national monument.
As part of President Obama's visit to Los Angeles he designated a portion of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest a national monument.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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Many people who were initially excited by President Obama’s decision to create a new national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains ended up being disappointed by how much of the range was left out of the designation.

“I felt like an orphan at a birthday party,” said Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation. “I thought we were all going to be part of this thing together, and then all of a sudden I see that they carved a massive hole into the Angeles National Forest.”

Map of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Brick, like many, wondered why such a significant portion at the southwestern end of the range was excluded. He said initial proposals all included the Arroyo Seco, Tujunga Canyon and other popular areas that ended up being excluded.

“All of the maps that I had seen up to that point all included the Arroyo, and I asked consistently about it and was told that it was in it. So that was really the first that I had heard that we were not in it,” Brick said.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said on Friday that the areas were excluded, because they contain a higher concentration of special use areas – man-made developments that require active management. Special uses include infrastructure designed to provide power and water as well as recreational activities such as skiing and shooting.

Ron Ketter, deputy regional forester for the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, said that including special use areas within the monument designation might make managing them more difficult.

“It might have made it more challenging for us to continue to manage those special uses, not that it would’ve been impossible to do that, because we do have special uses inside the monument as well,” Ketter said. “The concentration of those led us to make the judgment call not to include those in the national monument.”

Ketter said that the Antiquities Act requires that the minimal amount of space necessary for preservation of special features be set aside for protection.

John Heil, a spokesman for the Forest Service, echoed the sentiments in an email to KPCC: 

Q.)  Why were some areas of the Forest left out of the monument?

A.)  While certain areas of the Forest have significant historical, geological or scientific features, they were determined not to be compatible for inclusion within the monument boundaries based on site specific concerns including, extensive infrastructure, existing encumbrances and problematic access all of which could prove to be difficult to manage as a monument.  As a result, these areas were not included in order to afford the best opportunity for successful and effective monument management.

Q.)  Who within the Forest Service determined the specific proposed boundaries?

A.)  A team of specialists including the Forest Supervisors, Deputy Forest Supervisors, District Rangers, R5 Regional Land Surveyor, Archeologists, Biologists, Geologists, Botanists, Hydrologists, GIS, Resource, Fire, Recreation, and Special Use/Permit managers reviewed areas being considered for inclusion within the monument on their respective forests and provided feedback regarding compatibility with the Antiquities Act.

Brick said he didn’t accept the explanation that a higher concentration of special use areas necessitated excluding the Arroyo Seco and other lands from the national monument.

“Yes, there’s dams in both areas; there’s power lines in both areas; there’s major highways in both areas. That doesn’t create any good reason to exclude a third of the forest from the national monument,” Brick said.

Parts of the eastern end of the range were also excluded from the monument designation at the demand of San Bernardino County officials.

Ketter said that political considerations did not figure into how the lines were drawn on the southwestern end of the range. He said the Forest Service presented the final boundary lines for the national monument to the Obama Administration, which accepted the recommendation.

The Forest Service has three years to develop a final management plan for the national monument. Ketter said that regardless of which lands ended up within the boundaries, all would be properly managed by the Forest Service.

“The important thing to remember though is that the agency intends to continue successfully carrying out our responsibilities around all the lands and resources both in and out of the monument,” Ketter said.