By Jason KUROSU
On Monday, President Obama signed an executive order deeming 350,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, a move which supporters say will create greater access to the area and allow for greater protections of the land. It is the 13th time Obama has designated a national monument and the 11th time he has done so under use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the President to declare public land a national monument without congressional approval.
“I can think of no better way to honor our past and protect our future than by preserving the San Gabriel Mountains,” said Obama at the order signing at Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas.
Supporters of the monument designation have cited a lack of U.S. Forest Service funding in preventing the mountains from receiving adequate protection, which has led to littering of much of the area.
Earlier this year, Representative Judy Chu introduced a bill (H.R. 4858) that would designate the San Gabriel Mountains, river corridors and Puente Hills as a National Recreation Area, a protected area that would preserve the land while allowing for recreational opportunities. The legislation has been stalled in Congress, though, spurring Chu to call on the President to exercise his executive powers and declare the mountains a national monument.
“The San Gabriel Mountains are a treasure, providing 70% of the open space for Angelenos and attracting more than three million visitors a year. But without adequate funding, the gorgeous woods and waters are marred by trash and graffiti while many trails have become dangerous and lack appropriate signage,” stated Chu in a press release. “Now, with the President’s announcement, there is finally hope. This marks the biggest change for the mountains since 1908 and is an important and immediate step towards fixing these problems.”
Though the designation does not predicate more funding for the land, supporters hope that national monument status will lead to financial help from philanthropic groups and nonprofits.
According to a White House press release, groups such as the National Forest Foundation are already committing $3 million in funds to the new monument for “community priorities and to support restoration and stewardship.” Other agencies such as the Hewlett, Wyss, Packard, and Annenberg foundations, the California Endowment, and the Resources Legacy Fund have announced a contribution of $500,000 to found the San Gabriel Partnership Fund for recreation support and habitat restoration.
“It’s not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight. You have to be able to access it,” said Obama. “Right now, campgrounds are crowded, parking lots are tight. There haven’t been enough resources to manage and maintain this area the way it deserves. Designating the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument is just the first step towards a broader effort to change that.
“We have the responsibility to be stewards of these landscapes for future generations.”
The mood was not entirely celebratory, though, as protestors filled both sides of the 57 Freeway overpass just outside of the designated national monument area, with handmade signs visible to those passing by on the street and the highway.
Robert C. Newman II, who finished second to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2006 Republican Primary Election and ran in other republican gubernatorial primaries, joined the protestors along with his wife Mary. The Newmans were concerned that the monument designation would limit access to the mountains and that Obama’s circumventing of Congress was part of a larger effort by the government and the United Nations to control land through a sustainable development plan known as Agenda 21.
Regarding Obama’s executive orders, Newman said, “I don’t mind the President exercising his powers as long as it’s consistent with the Constitution.”
Members of the Kizh Nation, Gabrileno Band of Indians expressed concerns about their land within the San Gabriel Mountains. Andy Perez Tautimez Salas and his father Ernie said that not only would the monument designation keep “the original inhabitants” of the land from it but that those behind the monument did not do enough to listen to public concerns.
“Judy Chu didn’t consult with the area,” said Andy Perez Tautimez Salas. “They bypassed the people.”
Protestors also gathered at Judy Chu’s Pasadena field office on Oct. 6, including congressional candidate Art Alas, former Arcadia Mayor Peter Amundson and Glendora Mayor Judy Nelson.
Though supporters say monument designation will increase overall access to the mountains, Nelson, speaking as a private citizen, said that language could suggest just the opposite.
“We want to ensure that there aren’t restrictions or regulations, particularly when it comes to water rights. They say there’s going to be increased protection of natural resources, but with such protection usually comes more regulation and restrictions,” she said.
Nelson cited Obama’s presidential proclamation of the monument, which states, “The Secretary shall prepare a transportation plan that specifies and implements such actions necessary to protect the objects identified in this proclamation, including road closures and travel restrictions.”
Regarding water rights, though, the same proclamation also states, “Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to alter the valid existing water rights of any party, including the United States.”
With the management plan still a few years away, there is uncertainty to how these varying aspects of the monument will be handled.
Nelson also denounced Chu’s “bypass of Congress,” noting that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted not to approve the monument designation, just one example of a “lack of input” that has characterized the monument process.
“I don’t see our mountains being in imminent danger,” said Nelson. “The Forest Service has been doing a good job in protecting the mountains. They’re simply underfunded. I’d be elated to address problems in the mountains, but I don’t see why more funding couldn’t have come before the mountains being declared a monument.”
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was also among the political figures against the monument designation.
“Congresswoman Judy Chu’s attempt to designate the forest as a national recreation area failed to get traction in Congress and now she is bypassing stakeholders by requesting that the President designate it a national monument via Executive Order,” said Supervisor Antonovich in a press release. “This designation will impact county operations including flood protection, roads and water resources along with the communities of Mt. Baldy, Wrightwood, and the millions of residents who visit the forest each year.”