By Jason KUROSU
The Crescenta Valley Sierra Club met Tuesday night to discuss a plan for gaining wilderness status for a larger portion of the Angeles National Forest, though some in attendance were on hand to question the Sierra Club’s stance on the state’s High Speed Rail Project, which would tunnel beneath the forest.
John Monsen, a member of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a group made up of several organizations including the Sierra Club, spoke about his group’s plan for establishing a larger part of the forest as wilderness.
Monsen said the wilderness designation would dictate that “an area will be managed without infrastructure, without anything, without any changes in perpetuity, to retain its natural character.”
Monsen added the designation would forbid various forms of infrastructure, such as road building, oil and gas drilling, logging, mechanical vehicles such as dirt bikes, off-road vehicles, mountain bikes, new mining claims, new reservoirs, power lines and pipelines.
Monsen said 18% of the ANF is currently wilderness and about another 18% is eligible.
Another goal of San Gabriel Mountains Forever is to expand the San Gabriel National Monument Area to include areas left out of the monument area when it was originally designated in October 2014.
Whether these plans would prevent the high speed rail from passing through the forest is uncertain, though Sierra Club members such as Olivia Hernandez support it.
Hernandez was among the Sierra Club members and numerous other residents and representatives of Kagel Canyon, Santa Clarita, San Fernando, and other communities who protested the High Speed Rail Project at the Ronald Reagan State Building Tuesday morning.
Hernandez, a Kagel Canyon resident and member of the Crescenta Valley Sierra Club since 1988, felt that there is a disconnect between the executive levels of the Sierra Club and members like herself.
“I usually see eye-to-eye with what they want to do, but not on this one,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez believes that much of the support from Sierra Club members stems from the club’s relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown.
“Gov. Brown has advocated so many of our environmental and ecological concerns. I think it’s political support for the most part,” said Hernandez. “They should have done a lot more research before getting the Angeles Chapter behind it.”
When asked his opinion of the High Speed Rail Project, Monsen said, “I adamantly oppose the routing of the high speed rail under or through the Angeles National Forest. I think it is an absurd and environmentally offensive idea. Among other things I fear is that it will generate surface infrastructure or, when tunneling proves too expensive – a likely prospect – a surface route through the Angeles National Forest.”
George Watland, senior chapter director of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, said that the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club supports the rail project for its environmental benefits, but is still waiting for a full environmental study to be completed.
“The Sierra Club strongly supports California high speed rail as an alternative to fossil fuel use by intrastate jet flights and long car drives, plus highway and airport expansion. With the recent release of a Supplemental Alternatives Analysis Report for the Palmdale to Burbank Section of the High Speed Rail Project, four alternative routes have been proposed for additional evaluation. The Sierra Club has taken no position on these alternatives and will await a thorough draft environmental study to be completed in late 2016. The ultimate decision should follow national and state Sierra Club policies on high speed rail and national forests and monuments,” said Watland. “In the meantime, the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club will continue to host discussions of the project with its Water and Transportation Committees and its regional groups along the alternative routes. The Chapter invites input on selecting a route that minimizes environmental impact and maximizes the likelihood of successful completion of the project.”