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Editorial: Obama didn’t go far enough: The San Gabriel Mountains need more protections

The environmentalists and other activists who had advocated for protecting the San Gabriel Mountains were shocked this month when President Obama created a national monument that was significantly smaller than they had expected and that excluded heavily used areas of the forest north of Los Angeles and Pasadena. Their surprise was understandable. In the weeks leading up to the president’s announcement, a key argument for creating the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was that the status would finally give the U.S. Forest Service the money and staff needed to maintain trails, creeks and picnic areas damaged by overuse.

But the final map leaves out the entire southwest portion of the Angeles National Forest, which is close to foothill cities and contains some of the most popular and damaged facilities. For instance, some environmental groups had hoped the monument designation would help the Forest Service restore the nationally recognized Gabrielino Trail and sensitive areas destroyed by the 2009 Station fire and subsequent mudslides. Now there is real concern that any additional funding — at least $3 million was promised by philanthropic groups — and Forest Service attention will be directed to the monument at the expense of other high-need areas.

The Forest Service, which drew the boundary lines for the Obama administration, has said that the southwestern section of the forest contains infrastructure that might be more difficult to maintain under the new status. Yet there are dams, power lines and roads in other sections of forest that were included in the monument. Perhaps Obama was merely trying to adhere to the Antiquities Act of 1906, which says that in creating national monuments, presidents should designate the smallest area compatible with protecting federal assets.

But the result is a monument that doesn’t achieve the goals outlined by the administration and environmentalists.

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From the start, it was clear that the better way to protect all of the San Gabriel Mountains would have been through legislation that could be openly debated and amended with community input. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) introduced a bill this year to turn the 655,000-acre range into a National Recreation Area, bringing in National Park Service oversight, money and focus on recreation and conservation. But with the GOP-led House showing little interest in environmental bills, Chu and advocates turned to Obama. We are pleased that he brought new attention and funding to the mountains, but sorry it had to be done by executive action, behind closed doors, with little explanation or accountability.

It would be a mistake to see monument status as the endgame, especially after so much of the mountains were left out. Chu and the Los Angeles-area congressional delegation should continue to push for greater protection and funding for the entire range.

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