This blog was co-authored by Environment America Intern Bergen Schmidt
We need more nature in our lives, and earlier this year, President Joe Biden took a meaningful step in the right direction on that need when he pledged to protect 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.
Not to be outdone, Congress took important action in protecting a special place in southern California, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu and passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, a sweeping package that protects almost 3 million acres of public lands in the U.S.
The bill proposes to establish a 490,000-acre San Gabriel National Recreation Area that will increase resources for visitors; expand the San Gabriel Mountains Monument by more than 100,000 acres, including all of the Angeles National Forest within the monument; and designate more than 30,000 acres as “wilderness,” which is the strongest protection status for land in the U.S.
When it comes to the U.S. Senate, these fantastic changes are included in Sen. Alex Padilla’s PUBLIC Lands Act, which he announced on May 3, 2021. The Senate has yet to take up this important conservation bill..
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which received its designation by President Barack Obama in 2014, is a special outdoor space for the wildlife, plants and people in the Los Angeles region. With 17 million people living within a 90-minute drive of the monument, this open space offers amazing proximity to the outdoors. The monument sustains a rare Mediterranean ecosystem that is found in only 3 percent of the world. More than 300 California endemic plant species are located exclusively in the monument, and more than 600 archeological sites that date back as many as 8,000 years are there as well.
Countless endangered species — including bighorn sheep and the mountain yellow-legged frog — call the area, which is supported by the rivers that flow through the San Gabriel Mountains, home. The area also features wildlife corridors, that reconnect fragmented habitats, and, in particular, help to protect the genetic diversity of mountain lions in the region.
Photo: CDFW Inland Desert Region staff
At night, the Mount Wilson Observatory offers a priceless view of the heavens. At this observatory, Edwin Hubble discovered that some stars in the sky were actually distant, new galaxies, and Albert Michaelson “provided the first modern measurement of the speed of light” there.
Beyond the monument’s critical ecological and scientific importance, its recreational value factored in President Obama’s decision to designate the area as a national monument. The monument supplies 70 percent of Los Angeles County’s open outdoor space. His proclamation designating the monument said: “For many residents of Los Angeles County — one of the most disadvantaged counties in the country when it comes to access to parks and open space for minorities and children — the San Gabriel Mountains provide the only available large-scale open space.”
USDA Forest Service Photo by Andrew Mitchell
California Wilderness Coalition Senior Policy Director Ryan Henson recently echoed Obama’s words when elaborating on the specific use of the San Gabriel River. “Literally, thousands of people go to the San Gabriel River to swim on a hot weekend, and the river itself has endangered fish and many other ecological values in itself. But protecting it as a recreation resource is very important,” he said.
Henson supports the 100,000 acre expansion of the monument. “It’s better to include an entire watershed in a national monument than just part of one,” he explained. “It would help the monument make more geographic sense and it would also include many more ecological and social values because of the specific places that are being added such as the locally-famous Big Tujunga Canyon.”
Protecting special places like the San Gabriel Mountains is essential if we want to continue to explore and experience beautiful, wild outdoor spaces. The federal government is recognizing this immutable fact. President Biden took a strong step in the right direction with his plan to protect 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. The House passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. Now, the Senate should pass the PUBLIC Lands Act.
Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America
Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.