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July 05, 2011

Club Cultivates Stewardship in San Gabriel Mountains Campaign

Gudiel-Cruz-Vargas

On the last day of June, the Sierra Club hosted an event in Azusa, California, to introduce the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign to community members who live south of the San Gabriels in Los Angeles County. That's Sierra Club organizer Byron Gudiel, Azusa School Board President Xilonin Cruz, and Club organizer Jasmin Vargas at the get-together, above.

"Azusa is the Gateway City to the San Gabriels," says Sierra Club organizer Juana Torres. "We had a very successful event, conducted in English and Spanish, and both area residents and local elected officials were in attendance."

The Sierra Club's San Gabriel Mountains Campaign is seeking to permanently protect wild places and scenic rivers in the San Gabriels, the recreational "backyard" for 17 million Southern Californians. Below, Mt. San Antonio and Pine Mountain in the heart of the San Gabriels.

Mt-San-Antonio-and-Pine-Mtn
Photo by Michael Gordon

Jasmin Vargas has been doing extensive public outreach in the communities south of the San Gabriels. "The people we invited to the June 30 event are mostly from communities of color that are socio-economically underserved," she says. "They use the San Gabriels for recreation, but they haven't been organized per se in making their experience there a better one."

The proceedings opened with people sharing their favorite places to visit in the San Gabriels. Torres, Vargas, and campaign manager Byron Gudiel spoke about the opportunities and challenges in the Angeles and San Bernadino National Forests, where the San Gabriels are located, and presented the Sierra Club's vision for the range.

Sheep-Mountain-Wilderness
Photo by Michael Gordon

The audience then split up into groups to discuss ways they could get involved and what their personal commitment to the campaign would be. "We ended the evening by presenting Azusa School Board President Xilonin Cruz with a gift—Call of the Mountains, about Southern California's three highest mountain ranges—for her work to get her own school board and three others to pass resolutions of support for our campaign," says Torres, below.

Juanna-Torres

The Sierra Club is a founding member of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a coalition of community, faith, social justice, and environmental groups working to preserve what many consider to be Southern California's most scenic and most valuable natural resource. The San Gabriels, which comprise 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and supply one-third of the county's water, receive some 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community.

San-Gabriel-recreationists
Photo by Andrew Harvey

"When I do community outreach, a lot of the communication I do is in Spanish," Vargas says. "Besides translating the environmental narrative, there's also the challenge of priorities. People of color and immigrant communities have to struggle every day for jobs, health care, and community services. The thing I'm most excited about in this campaign is answering those challenges with the environment in mind."

Below, the west fork of the San Gabriel River, one of the waterways the Sierra Club is seeking to protect.

West-Fork-San-Gabriel-River
Photo by Michael Gordon

"I talk with people on the grassroots level to find out the challenges they face with regard to parks and open space," Vargas says. "And we tell them we want more people working to protect the mountains and get more funding and make them more accessible. Obesity, diabetes, and asthma are big problems in these communities, so we want to make it easier for people to get out to places where they'll be getting exercise and air pollution isn't so high."

San-Gabriel-visitors
Photo by Andrew Harvey

There are currently five wilderness areas in the San Gabriels, and the Sierra Club, along with San Gabriel Mountains Forever, is seeking to protect an additional 36,000 acres as wilderness and designate five waterways as National Wild & Scenic Rivers. U.S. Representatives David Drier (R-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have been champions of the San Gabriels in Congress, and the Club has worked with all three for years.

This January, Drier introduced the Angeles and San Bernadino National Forest Protection Act (H.R. 113), which would protect a little under 19,000 acres as wilderness, address a backlog of maintenance issues, and complete river studies for possibly future Wild & Scenic designation. "We applaud Rep. Drier's efforts," says Torres, "but we're seeking protections for the mountain range that go further than those offered by H.R. 113."

San-Gabriels-cyclist

Ultimately, the Club's vision for the San Gabriels is to get the range designated as a National Recreation Area. The mountains contain some of the most beloved recreation area in L.A. County, but they suffer from inadequate maintenance and services. Rest rooms and picnic tables are scarce, few Forest Service employees speak Spanish, and there is no real visitor center or significant investment in stewardship or educational services. Designating a San Gabriel Mountains National Recreational Area would address these shortcomings.

San-Gabriels-picnic-area
Photo by Andrew Harvey

Nurturing an ethos of environmental stewardship in the communities south of the mountains is one of the challenges that most excites Vargas about the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign.

"Our goal is not only wilderness designation, but also making the mountains more accessible to the communities who use them. A lot of this will be accomplished through legislation and litigation, but we know that without grassroots support from the community, we won't be able to create a legacy of environmental stewards for the mountains. That's what motivates me the most—to get people involved and help create that legacy of environmental stewardship in the San Gabriels."

San-Antonio-Creek
Photo by Michael Gordon

To get involved, join the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, check out the campaign's Facebook page, and call or write Congressman David Drier and ask him to strengthen H.R. 113 by protecting 36,000 new acres of wilderness in the Cucamonga and Sheep Mountain wilderness areas, and designating the east, west, and north forks of the San Gabriel River, the middle fork of Lytle Creek, and San Antonio Creek as Wild & Scenic Rivers rather than simply completing studies on these waterways.

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to protect Resilient Habitats.

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