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Forest Plan Seeks to Balance Conflicts : Angeles Program Would Curb Fires, Offer Wide Appeal

November 17, 1987|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

'Too Steep . . . Too Much Brush'

The Forest Service will reduce the amount of area available to unrestricted ORV use from 240,000 acres to only 265 acres. "The user groups themselves found that area to be undesirable," said Modee, speaking of the northern parts of the San Gabriel Mountains. "They found much of it too steep, with too much brush, for use by ORVs."

The Forest Service has already begun to impose new restrictions on the controversial shooting areas in the forest, which draw an estimated 500,000 "plinkers" a year. Two shooting areas that were "well-nigh impossible to manage," Modee said, have been closed in recent years. Others have shrunk from broadly unrestricted shooting areas to strictly designated target ranges.

The plan notes that about 53,000 acres of the forest has been eliminated from the target shooting system, leaving a more controlled 5,120 acres.

"There's always a wide variety of users, from people with no experience at all with weapons to people who were very experienced," said Modee. "The problem is that people come in who really don't understand what a shooting area is all about."

Six people have been killed by stray bullets in the past five years, and there have been numerous injuries, including seven this year. Forest Service officials say the shooters are also responsible for a large number of fires. About 10% of the fires reported in the forest this year began in shooting areas, including the forest's biggest fire of 1987, which consumed 11,000 acres in the Castaic Lake region.

Officials say that the emphasis will be on enforcement in the shooting areas, which are now often unpatrolled. Sheriff's deputies and Forest Service agents have already begun enforcing new rules prohibiting alcoholic beverages in the shooting areas, Modee said.

Targets Become Trash

Patrols will begin to enforce littering regulations as well, he said. "People bring in a lot of things for targets that end up as trash," said Modee. "We're not going to allow them to bring in old refrigerators or television sets."

One of the most ambitious aspects of the plan is its proposal to modify the forest's ecological system by diversifying plant life and, thus, reducing the chances of widespread wildfires.

"Historically, what happens in the forest is you have 500 acres wiped out in a single fire," said Modee. "Then it all grows back, with plant life at the same age, eventually making it vulnerable to wildfire again."

The Angeles has one of the "most dramatic wildfire histories" of any national forest, the plan notes. Wide swaths of dry, brush-like chaparral vegetation, much of it in steep inaccessible terrain, are particularly vulnerable to fire in a climate that produces extended periods of dry weather and Santa Ana winds, officials say. About 18,500 acres of forest a year are burned in wildfires, many of them set by visitors, they say.

Experts estimate that, in the chaparral type of setting found in the lower reaches of the Angeles, the forest develops enough dead brush after 10 years to make great tracts of it susceptible to wildfire.

The Forest Service, which already does extensive prescribed burning in the Angeles, proposes to step up the pace of burning and to use planting programs to create an "age and class mosaic," with more diversity in age and species in adjacent areas.

170 Miles of 'Fuelbreaks'

Forest workers will also install 170 miles of new "fuelbreaks," strips of forest whose dead vegetation has been cleaned out, frequently replaced with new greenery. The effect is to slow a fire's spread, especially across ridge lines.

"There's no way to ever eliminate wildfires," Modee said. "What you do is make them smaller."

Officials emphasize that all the plan's innovations will not go into effect immediately. "Bureaucracy moves real slow," Modee said. "A plan of this comprehensiveness you don't implement overnight." For example, under the best of circumstances, the Forest Service will build an average 32 miles of new ORV trails a year, Modee said.

To carry out the Angeles plan, forest officials will seek a budget increase to $23.7 million from the current annual figure of $16 million, Roby said.

Citizens wishing to appeal parts of the plan have until Dec. 21 to submit their complaints to Regional Forester Paul Barker, at regional headquarters in San Francisco.

Though the management plan theoretically directs the forest through the next 15 years, Forest Service officials are already gearing up for a new round of planning. Said Modee: "Southern California changes so rapidly, we'll probably have to do the next plan before the 15 years are over."

15-year plan calls for:

324 miles of new off-road vehicle trails; drastic reduction in area available to unrestricted ORV use.

14 tightly regulated target shooting areas on 5,120 acres.

112 miles of new hiking trails; new camping and picnic areas.

Curbs on mountain bikers on some out-of-the-way hiking trails.

A doubling of area to be devoted to skiing.

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