Photo: Fishing the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
By Jessica Strickland
Trout Unlimited has been working for years to better protect and enhance the unique habitat values and fishing and hunting opportunities in the San Gabriel Mountains, straddling the two most heavily-used “urban” national forests in the country and forming the eastern skyline for residents of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.
The east and west forks of the San Gabriel River spring from this range, and offer rare trout fishing in a dry and incredibly populous region.
That is, if you can find a place to park and a place to wade or cast amid the overwhelming litter and resource damage these streams, especially the East Fork, are currently experiencing. TU believes permanent protection for the San Gabriels, through special designation such as a national monument, could help conserve and restore habitat and access.
Last Tuesday, August 26, 600 people showed up for a public meeting on this very proposal. The building’s capacity was only 400 people, so some 200 locals remained outside, many chanting “National monument now!” Inside, a panel of public officials, including Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and Robert Bonnie, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke about the proposed monument designation.
Tidwell and Bonnie affirmed that their agencies are exploring ways to bring additional resources to better manage the two national forests (Angeles and San Bernardino) adjacent to the LA metropolitan area.
Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), who introduced the San Gabriel National Recreation Area Act (HR 4858) in June 2014, championed national monument designation as the best way to address the many problems in the San Gabriels. At the meeting, Chu called on President Obama to declare the existing national forest portion of her larger National Recreation Area proposal a national monument, given that Congress has passed only one public lands bill in this session, and passed no such bills in the prior two years.
What would a national monument do?
Designating the San Gabriels as a national monument would protect and enhance the natural, historic, recreational and scenic values of this range, and permanently preserve access for fishing and hunting. It would help protect water quality by reducing impacts on the San Gabriel River, while also improving visitor facilities, services and staffing. It would limit development and guarantee continuation of existing uses (except probably certain “consumptive” uses such as dredge mining). It would not undermine existing water or property rights.
What’s TU’s position?
Trout Unlimited views national monument designation for the San Gabriels as an important step in the process of achieving a broader initiative to better protect and enhance federal public lands in southern California. And we aren’t alone -- a recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies found that nearly 3 out of 4 (73%) county residents who fish or hunt support protecting San Gabriel Mountains and rivers.
On Tuesday, TU’s grassroots mobilized – as they so often do around the country -- to support the San Gabriels monument proposal. Former TU California Council chair Drew Irby personally handed Chief Tidwell a letter from a variety of sportsmen’s organizations and businesses supporting the national monument.
The East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River provide a rare opportunity for cold water stream fishing in southern California, and the East Fork is one of the region’s few designated Wild Trout streams. Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center recently identified remnant native trout populations in the San Gabriel River. These trout are descendants of endangered southern steelhead that historically migrated between the ocean and fresh water but are now confined to the headwaters due to dams, habitat degradation and low stream flow.
3 out of 4 sportsmen in Los Angeles County can’t be wrong. These fish, and angling opportunities in the San Gabriel Mountains, will be conserved and sustained by better protecting their habitat as a national monument.
Jessica Strickland is California Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. Photos courtesy urbanflyy.com and modernhiker.com.