Forest Service officials know people are eager to get back into closed areas of the Angeles National Forest that have been shut down since the 2009 Station Fire.
As acting Forest Supervisor Marty Dumpis, U.S. Forest Service, stated at a Pasadena Group of the Sierra Club meeting on Wednesday, “The Angeles is everyone’s back yard.”
“We know the public really wants to get out there,” Dumpis said. “It’s your urban forest.”
The meeting was held Wednesday night for Dumpis and others guest speakers to discuss the recovery from the 2009 Station Fire, which was the biggest in L.A. County's history and has shut down recreational areas across the foothill areas.
Guest speakers from the USFS explained the recovery efforts for the areas of the Angeles National Forest destroyed by the Station Fire in the fall of 2009 and called for volunteers to aid in the restoration. Money and legislative protections are also being sought by the USFS and a broad coalition of groups including the Sierra Club.
But if any of the 80-plus attendees of Wednesday's meeting were hoping to get a list with target dates for trail reopenings or firm details on the status of campgrounds, they must have been disappointed. The USFS offered only vague descriptions and a slide of a map that was difficult to decipher.
Factors that impact the natural recovery of the forest include the geology of specific areas, hydrophobic soils created by the heat of the fire, debris flows, and the growth of invasives. The steepness of the forest is also a factor.
Dumpis emphasized the need to find right mix of ecology and recreation, to manage heavy use while maintaining the ecology of the forest. He said a forest plan created five years ago identified many of the necessary steps, but not how to deal with an event like the Station Fire.
The restoration strategy deals with both ecological and infrastructure concerns. Ecologically, it’s pretty straightforward: remove invasive species, replant dead trees, restore habitat.
Restoring infrastructure is more problematic, because so much of it was lost and there was no insurance to help pay for restoration. Restrooms, campgrounds, and 250 miles of trails were destroyed. Dumpis said that the Angeles has to compete with other agencies for allocation of congressional dollars.
Some infrastructure replacement was funded by the Economic Recovery Act and President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative last year gave some assistance, but some areas still have no restrooms and no money to replace them. For example, one "sweet smelling toilet" restroom installation costs $40,000, so porta-potties may be put in instead.
“We need to provide certain level of service to allow people back in,” Dumpis said.
Again and again in the talks by all of the speakers, the urgency of removing invasive plant species was stressed, and the need for volunteers to devote time to identifying and pulling plants that will quickly outpace native chaparral. Dumpis said that last year, the forest benefited from thousands of volunteer hours, valued at $1.5 million.
In her talk, Katie VinZant, forest botanist with the USFS, said that the Angeles Forest has some 500 animal species and 3,000 plant species, but invasives such as mustard and Spanish broom quickly create a monoculture. Grasses are especially invasive and crowd out the plants that grow in chaparral environments.
She and a group of volunteers walked some 150 miles of riparian landscape and dozer lines searching for “a needle in a haystack” and uprooting invasives. Priorities are tamarind and Spanish broom, which can have taproots that can go down as much as six feet. Herbicide use is not allowed, so the plants must be weeded out by hand.
In addition to removing invasives, VinZant’s team collected chaparral seed, which might not grow under invasive conditions, for reseeding in the fall.
Andrew Fish, USFS non-motorized trail program manager, addressed the priorities in restoring trails and urged listeners to volunteer.
First on the list for future reopening is the Mount Lowe trail, followed by the Gabrielino pass, Fish said. “The target is to get the Gabrielino open this year to Paul Little,” Fish said, but “beyond that, the trail does not exist.” It was hoped that, depending on weather, Gabrielino might be open by Memorial Day.
“We want to work with you to be part of reconstructing” the forest, he said, and requested that the Sierra Club adopt the Strawberry Creek trail. He also asked attendees to come out for California Trails Day on April 16.
The Millard Canyon trail is already open, along with the campground and parts of the Brown Mountain run. The Mount Lowe tunnel is targeted to reopen in the fall, and possibly Sunset Ridge.
District Ranger Mike McIntyre listed some of the trails that are set to reopen first, “basically the entire west fork.” Both the far western and far eastern areas of the Station Fire are priorities. Before trails can reopen, volunteers to monitor invasives and trail signs need to be in place, he said. If the areas cannot be managed, he said access would have to be cut off again.
Partnerships with government agencies and the community are essential to restoring the forest and recreation areas. Dumpis said that The Forest Community and Friends of the Angeles have partnered with the Forest Service to help with restoration. The San Gabriel Mountains Forever organization has put together a coalition of groups, both business and non-profit, to protect the rivers in the San Gabriels.
The mountains have also received various federal designations designed for their protections:
But ultimately, the responsibility for helping to preserve the area will come from those who living closest to it, Dumpis said.
“We need people to take notice” of the Angeles Forest, Dumpis said. “It’s unfortunate that it took an event like the Station Fire to make people take notice.”
How You Can Help:
1) Help out on the April 16 California Trails Day event for a day of trail work, about 4-6 hours worth and lunch. The events is at the Red Box trail head of the Angeles Crest Highway and begins at 8 a.m. Contact Andrew Fish of the U.S. Forest Service, at 818.899.1900 or email@example.com
2) If April 16 does not work for you, you can find another day to work through the Forest Aid organization, which is organizing regular work days.
3) If you'd like to help out but don't think you are physically able to do trail work, contact Andrew Fish of the U.S. Forest Service, at 818.899.1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org. According to Fish, the Forest Service is working on thinking of other ways to utilize volunteers.