The San Gabriel Mountains: A promise to future generations

As a volunteer firefighter, outdoor entrepreneur, and a hiker, I want to see the San Gabriel Mountains protected so that visitors can always enjoy hiking, camping and picnics in these restored, breathtaking forests.

On Memorial Day, about 46,000 acres of public lands in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains reopened to the public for the first time since the massive 2009 Station Fire. Triggered by arson, the fire burned 161,000 acres of forestland east and north of Los Angeles for nearly a month. Two brave firefighters were killed. Several civilians were injured and 18 homes destroyed.

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Although some public lands remain closed out of concern for public safety or because more work is needed to clear fallen trees from trails, the U.S. Forest Service, volunteers and Mother Nature have done tremendous work restoring vegetation and reopening campgrounds and trails to visitors.

The Station Fire was just one threat to our public lands. Across California and the nation, climate change and development pose ongoing risks to our forests, parks and public lands. The more we do now to conserve these places, the better off our water supplies, air quality and opportunities for outdoor recreation will be.

New legislation proposed by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) aims to do just that. As the Station Fire made clear, the San Gabriel Mountains are the “backyard” of Los Angeles, and within an hour’s drive of more than 17 million people in Southern California. These public lands provide Los Angeles County residents with more than 70 percent of their open space and one-third of their drinking water.

In response to community concern for these resources, Chu is proposing to permanently protect the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, which flow from the mountains through Los Angeles County to the ocean. Her legislation encourages federal agencies and state and local stakeholders to collaborate to provide close-to-home recreation and permanent protection of these public lands for generations.

The White House has also recognized the value of protecting these public lands. In the administration’s 2011 publication, America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations, it cited community-driven efforts to protect the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers and “restore and create habitat opportunities for outdoor education, an active transportation corridor, protect water and air resources, [and] increase access to recreation for residents suffering from chronic health issues. …”

As parents of three, my wife and I frequently took our children hiking and camping. It is important that all families have these same opportunities for outdoor recreation, especially in Southern California, where many communities are challenged by unhealthful rates of asthma, childhood obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.

By permanently protecting the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers, we can ensure all families can enjoy hiking, biking, picnicking, fishing, and camping in these public lands and waters. I encourage Congress and the White House to identify opportunities to conserve our Great Outdoors here in Southern California. It is, indeed, our promise to the future.

Barker, founder and former owner of Eagle Creek Travel Gear, is owner of Wild Places consulting and the former chair of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). He currently serves on the OIA Recreation Advisory Committee, as well as the boards of The Conservation Alliance, The Alaska Wilderness League and The Escondido Creek Conservancy. He and his wife, Nona, are volunteer firefighters.