If things go according to a recently completed 15-year plan, Angeles National Forest will have fewer catastrophic wildfires, a greater variety of wildlife and plant life and generally happier visitors, U.S. Forest Service officials say.
The federal agency has completed work on a "holistic" management plan to take the 1,000-square-mile forest into the 21st Century, balancing the needs of urban free spirits, sportsmen and a frequently battered environment, according to Forest Supervisor George Roby.
"It's a very reasonable job of blending all the conflicting uses of the forest, and balancing them with the capabilities of the natural resources and the land," Roby said.
The plan sets long-term priorities and forest management goals for an area that draws more than 27 million often contentious visitors a year. The forest encompasses about a quarter of Los Angeles County.
Conflict is a frequent theme in the forest, which Roby and others have compared to "a giant urban park." Riders on all-terrain vehicles cross swords with picnickers, mountain bikers debate with hikers, and target-shooters, or "plinkers," duck each other's bullets.
The forest is the second-most-popular national forest in the nation (after Tonto National Forest in Arizona), and provides a natural setting for the recreational activities of about 8 million people in the Los Angeles area, Forest Service officials say.
7 Alternative Plans
The plan has evolved, over the past seven years, from a series of studies of the forest to seven alternative plans to the final version, which was released earlier this month. In the process, the U.S. Forest Service participated in 55 often clamorous meetings, heard the comments of more than 7,000 citizens and sent mailings to more than 5,500 organizations.
"There will be individuals and groups who will feel that their views weren't given the consideration they deserved," said Roby. "But I can honestly say that the views of all of those who had input during the long process were considered in preparing the plan."
The U.S. Forest Service will begin implementing the plan Dec. 4.
Under terms of the plan, there will be a new network of trails for off-road vehicles, but vast areas now designated as "unrestricted" will be off limits to them. Target shooters will find themselves confined to 14 tightly regulated shooting areas. And mountain bikers, who test their mettle by pedaling down rugged trails, will be kept off some of the out-of-the-way hiking trails.
There will also be 112 miles of new hiking trails, new camping and picnic areas and a doubling of the amount of space devoted to skiing.
"Management of a forest tends to be an exercise in resolving conflicts between different users," said Richard Modee, the forest's principal planning officer.
The Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club has already expressed mild support for most aspects of the plan, though deep reservations about others. "I can't say we're 100% pleased by it," said Fred Hoeptner, chairman of the group's conservation subcommittee. He cited particularly an "equivocal" position on a proposal by the county Parks and Recreation Department for a site for a motocross track for competitive racing within the forest.
Off-Road Vehicle Areas
The federal plan does not totally rule out the proposal, but says it would require the approval of the Forest Service chief to grant such an exception.
The Forest Service plans to maintain three off-road-vehicle areas, including the Rincon area in the San Gabriel Canyon, which draws an estimated 200,000 vehicles a year. Water officials have expressed apprehensions that ORV users could contaminate the San Gabriel Reservoir, at the area's southern edge, with chemical cleaning materials and other pollutants.
"Currently, we're looking for ways to control (vehicle intrusions into the reservoir), whether by putting up barriers or increasing patrols," said Modee. The Forest Service has already shut down the area at night. "That's been a tremendous help in reducing the problems," Modee said.
But the new emphasis will be on ORV trails. A network of 364 miles of ORV trails should be in place by the 21st Century, officials said, including extensive new trails on the northern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. There are currently 40 miles of ORV trails in the forest.
There will be additions to the ORV trails on the more popular southern slopes, including a new link north of Mt. Wilson, through Tujunga Canyon, and new loops in the low country north of Glendora. But the service has taken pains, Modee said, not to allow ORVs to intrude on "riparian" areas, where streams and ponds sustain a varied plant and animal life.
Hoeptner said that the Sierra Club supports the use of trails for ORVs, as long as the trails are "designed to limit the damage" to the ecology from the big-wheeled vehicles. He said the club was also pleased that the designation of a large area on the northern slopes of the San Gabriels as unrestricted had been removed.