Among those taking the greatest pride when President Obama formally designated the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California on October 10 was Susana Reyes, a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors since 2012. That's Reyes, above, speaking at the community celebration held immediately after the signing ceremony.
Formerly the Director of Human Resources with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, last year Reyes joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Sustainability Team, where she is a senior analyst.
The Planet spoke with Reyes just hours before President Obama dedicated the nation's newest national monument.
Planet: You've been championing a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument for years. What does today's designation mean to you?
Reyes: Greater visibility for these mountains has a real power to affect the lives of people in the community. Studies show that it's a de-stressor to connect with the outdoors. We're protecting these mountains forever so that future generations will be able to enjoy them.
I'm a local; I've lived in Glendale, right up against the San Gabriels, for more than 20 years, and I've been a Sierra Club activist since 1999. I think one of the most gratifying things about the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is what it will mean to the diverse communities who will now have greater awareness and access to this amazing resource. These are communities that have traditionally been underserved in terms of access to the outdoors.
The San Gabriels contain about 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and provide a third of its drinking water. The mountain range receives about 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community. But the visitor experience has been lacking due to inadequate maintenance and services. The San Gabriels are a majestic backdrop to Los Angeles, but they have long been neglected. Even though some 17 million people live nearby, many low income communities and communities of color haven't been fully aware of the incredible resourse these mountains provide.
Planet: Why do you think this is?
Reyes: Recreational and wilderness resources in the San Gabriels have been poorly maintained because the U.S. Forest Service has lacked an adequate budget. Now the National Park Service and the Forest Service will be co-managing the national monument. Public access will be improved, as will the visitor experience. Many of the communities closest to the San Gabriels are socio-economically underserved, and haven't felt they had a real decision-making stake in the San Gabriels. Many of them use the San Gabriels for recreation, but until recently they haven't been organized in making their experience there a better one. But that has been changing, in large part due to the Sierra Club.
Planet: Tell us about the Sierra Club's role in helping bring about this change.
Reyes: The Sierra Club's role in this has been hugely important. We've been involved for more than a decade -- for the last several years as a member of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition, which formed when President Obama began designating national monuments and Congresswoman Hilda Solis was championing greater protections for the San Gabriels. Once Solis became the U.S. Secretary of Labor, her successor Judy Chu took the lead in Congress for enhancements and national monument status for the San Gabriels.
Sierra Club volunteer John Monsen, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Reyes at the community celebration following the national monument signing ceremony. Reyes was among the featured speakers at the community celebration.
The Sierra Club hosted or co-hosted many, many community meetings to promote the national monument and recruit local champions from the community. The Club paid many times for buses to pick people up and get them to the meetings. We've worked closely from the get-go with the Latino community, faith, groups, and environmental justice groups. Sierra Club volunteers and staff translated campaign materials into Spanish. Organizers like Juana Torres, Fabiola Lao, Bill Corcoran, Sarah Matsumoto, Hop Hopkins, Eva Hernandez-Simmons, and Nidia Erceg really connected with the Latino community and helped bring them into the coalition.
Planet: What has your own involvement been?
Reyes: When the Sierra Club or the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition gave presentations, I would be there to support the team. I've been a liaison with Congresswomen Solis and Chu. I was in contact with them whenever there were efforts to write letters of support, I had input into those letters, and I wrote many of them in person. I also helped with fundraising, although that effort was mostly led by Juana Torres. As a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, I was the most visible volunteer, but I wanted to make sure that local volunteers got most of the credit, as they deserve.
Planet: Tell us how Club volunteers have been critical to the campaign's success.
Reyes: Volunteers have been huge in this effort. They have the skills, the passion, and they've long organized for this campaign, helping us pack rooms with people and channel support for the national monument. Three who have been key to our efforts are Don Bremner and John Monsen of the Angeles Chapter's forest committee, and Joyce Burk of the San Gorgonio Chapter's forest committee -- and I would be remiss not to mention Joan Licari, Joan Holtz, David Czamanske, Bob Cates, Judy Anderson, Jeff Yann, Lizz Pomeroy, Joanne Sarachman, and Jennifer Robinson, who have all made important contributions to this campaign over the years.
Sierra Club/San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition meeting in 2013.
All the capacities of the Sierra Club were pulled together by our volunteers to help build momentum toward national monument designation. Through this campaign, the Sierra Club has really connected with the Latino community in L.A. and gotten them involved. We don't just enter the community unprepared; we listen and learn first. The Club's campaign was very inclusive, a demonstration of our diversity, and it exemplifies the way we communicate and incorporate the social and cultural beliefs of the community into our work. It's been a huge success so far as movement-building and the diversity of the Club.
This wasn't just the Sierra Club standing alone, but the Sierra Club standing with diverse communities. In order to make this happen, we needed to push all of our goals to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet, but we also needed to work with the people who are going to use this mountain range and bring them into the process. National monument status will enhance their awareness of the San Gabriels, their experience enjoying the mountains and rivers, and their sense of ownership of this incredible resource. And of course, it will ensure that the things we love about the San Gabriels will remain to be enjoyed by others.
Photo by Ricraider, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.