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Bill would expand protection for San Gabriel Mountains

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Alondra Campos
Staff Writer

A proposed federal law could expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and provide more areas for hikers, campers and nature enthusiasts.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Claremont, introduced the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act in April to expand the San Gabriel National Monument and create more recreational areas for people to indulge in nature.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

If approved, the federal measure would establish a national recreation area of 51,107 acres along the foothills and San Gabriel River corridor and designate over 30,000 acres of protected wilderness and 45.5 miles of protected rivers in Southern California.

The act would also expand the borders of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to include 109,143 acres of the Western part of the Los Angeles National Forest.

The national recreation area Chu and Harris hope to codify could increase access to all communities by connecting poor park areas to open space and improve management of the area through improved resources, education and public engagement, according to the act. 

Stephanie Khatchadourian, freshman biology major, said the act could serve as a step forward for environmental conservation. 

“The act is a small step toward helping save and conserve our natural resources and can partake in the current environmental movement,” Khatchadourian said.

The act states that the 15,878 acres of expanded wilderness and 15,191 acres of new wilderness areas will benefit from the highest form of protection of any federal wildland.

These designations will be provide the highest federal protection for historic California Condor and Nelson Bighorn Sheep habitats, vital sources of clean water within the San Gabriel watershed and undeveloped landscapes in the San Gabriel mountains.

The act would also designate the east, west and north forks of the San Gabriel River as federally protected rivers, which would provide a source of clean drinking water for the Los Angeles county.

Areas of untouched nature will be remain open to hiking, camping and other recreational activities.

However, commercialized activities, such as motorized vehicles and races, will be prohibited to prevent over-development, pollution and habitat destruction.

Private property and other existing rights will remain unchanged.

Katarina Arce, freshman biology major, said acts like the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act can raise awareness about the environmental destruction our planet is experiencing.

“Acts like these can get us to think about our actions and how we can contribute to saving our planet,” Arce said. “By allowing the public to interact with nature, they are more likely to re-evaluate their actions and perhaps even join the environmental movement.”

Arce said the act could also deteriorate the pollution and damaging chemicals found in areas like the San Gabriel Mountains.

“The act is pushing for the implementation of a place that would essentially be free of pollution and harmful gases that are constantly being placed in our atmosphere,” Arce said. “Limiting and even excluding the vehicles that could increase our carbon footprint is definitely a way to assess the situation.”

Erik Bahnson, president of Students Engaged in Environmental Discussion club, also known as SEEDS, said if the act was to be passed, it would give even more valor to the endless voices of environmental activists around the world.

“To extend protection for American wilderness is to recognize a simple fact raised louder every year by activists around the world, which is continuing humanity’s habit of treating ecosystems as warehouses for material goods much longer will deplete Earth’s ability to keep us alive,” said Bahnson, senior environmental ethics major. “If the act gets passed and perhaps sets a trend, it will signal not only a victory for America’s environmentalists, but also a national will to face the 21st century’s ecological realities with candor and maturity.”

David Bickford, associate professor of biology, said that although he supports the intentions behind the act, there are still many factors people do not take into consideration when making wilderness areas open to the public.

“I encourage more recreational areas but opening up protected areas brings other problems,” Bickford said. “I can see the good intentions behind the act, but the lack of a reasonable management plan to do this can bring unfavorable situations.”

Bickford said that invasive species, those being species that are not native to a specific location and can spread to degree that could become harmful to the environment, follow humans everywhere.

By allowing more people to hike and camp in the protected areas of the wilderness, they involuntarily bring these invasive species with them and continue to cause damage to the environment.

Bickford added that deserts and mountains are extremely susceptible to overuse and degradation and can harm animal, plant and even human life.

Bickford said that although we have clean air and water for the most part in California, other places, such as China and India, have to buy clean water and wear masks due to the polluted air and we must place a bigger value on these resources.

“We thrive on healthy ecosystems and we only value them until they’re gone,” Bickford said. “We have to learn to value these resources, not necessarily with dollars and cents, but with importance before they’re gone.”

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

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