The Cleveland National Forest on Orange County's eastern border is the last frontier of unspoiled environment that seems assured of staying that way forever.
The trick is to find a way to preserve that fragile environment and still allow reasonable recreational use by the 10 million people who live within a two-hour drive of the 567,000-acre forest.
It took five years of study, planning, public input and controversy, but the first management plan for the Cleveland National Forest--which lies in the counties of Orange, San Diego and Riverside--has finally been approved. As was to be expected, it doesn't satisfy everyone.
The plan does protect many stands of rare trees, but doesn't set aside as much wilderness area as some environmentalists would like.
There are four areas accounting for 18% of the total acreage that will be preserved in their natural state with designations as wilderness areas. We, too, would like to see more. Preserving as much natural beauty as possible must be a top priority in any management plan. Whatever is preserved now could always be opened to recreational use later.
But we also recognize that the increased demands for more parkland and recreational facilities for an active, growing population also must be met.
Reconciling the two is a tough task. The new plan is a reasonable effort at striking a balance. It does preserve invaluable trees, hills, streams and canyons. At the same time it provides for an expanded trail system that opens new areas for people to enjoy the peaceful calm of the natural countryside as well as new picnic spots, increased area for off-road vehicles and new and improved access roads into the forest.
The main problem now is securing the federal funds needed to implement the new plan. The forest's projected annual budget under the new plan is $11.4 million--well over the estimated $7 million available this year.
The lack of federal funds for national parks and forests is nothing new. They have been underfunded for many years. Congress and the Reagan Administration must not allow that to continue.
The new Land and Resources Management Plan for the Cleveland National Forest is a reasonable one that accommodates preservation and recreation. It has official federal support. It deserves federal funding, too.