Political leaders and outdoors enthusiasts expressed dismay Thursday over new details about an Interior Department recommendation for changes in federal management of a popular region of the San Gabriel Mountains.
"The proposal raises many questions, and I want answers from the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service as to why this hybrid came about," U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said in an interview.
The Interior Department announced Wednesday that it is recommending to Congress that the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service collaborate in the region, which includes a portion of the Angeles National Forest stretching from Sylmar to roughly five miles west of Interstate 15.
Under the proposal, the region essentially would remain national forest land managed by the cash-strapped Forest Service. But it would draw upon the National Park Service for additional law enforcement, signage, trail maintenance and services such as trash pickup.
Interior also recommended transforming portions of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo river corridors and the Puente-Chino Hills area into a unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service in partnership with local landowners, environmental groups and nonprofits.
The announcement capped a campaign launched in 2003 by then-Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) to secure stronger federal protections for the region, visited by more than 3.5 million people a year.
The National Park Service spent nearly a decade researching alternatives, conducting public hearings, developing a 316-page report and evaluating 12,000 public comments that led to Wednesday's announcement. More than 95% of public comments supported an alternative that recommended creating a National Recreation Area spanning the entire area, including the national forest land.
Doing so would have emphasized recreational use and brought new environmental protections to a region now designated as a national forest charged with managing multiple uses including mining, hunting, logging and other activities. The 655,000-acre portion of the Angeles National Forest suffers from illegal campfires, crime and pollution.
Chu suggested that the effectiveness of plans to share resources between the Forest Service and the National Park Service remains unknown. "Visitors need — and deserve — additional resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and watershed, and I intend to do my part to ensure that happens," she said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said he worries that the proposed national recreation area in the San Gabriel Valley would become a separate, noncontiguous "floating island" plagued by "logistical and administrative challenges."