Sunday, March 29, 2015

The San Gabriel River ~ Going Forward With a Plan

Grafitti, East Fork, San Gabriel River
     As a kid I pursued the trout of the San Gabriel mercilessly. Bright leaves of trout. I owe them a lot more than the two cents I’m throwing down here.

Growing up in Glendora, California, at the foot of the mountains, the San Gabriel River was my refuge from 1963 until 1975, when I relocated to the Northwest pursuing a career in forestry. It was my fly fishing natal stream. I was there at the inception of the catch & release native trout segment on the West Fork. The love & appreciation for the outdoors the river canyons engendered & fostered in me led to my career in silvaculture & forestry & provided the foundation of my life as a guide & writer.    

My hat is off to those who worked to bring the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to reality, as it is a huge first step toward creating a stewardship plan for this sensitive & immensely important region adjacent to one of the largest population centers on earth. Hopefully, now we can move forward with a stewardship plan focused on addressing the new Monument’s most pressing environmental concerns. It is one thing to acquire a label for a region or a river, yet another to achieve the actual recipe & ingredients needed to restore & preserve it.

Of course, the prime ingredient is funding for the restoration projects the San Gabriel River within the Monument sorely needs. It is my understanding that the Forest Service has already been allotted some funds for use in the Monument, also, California Fish & Game, with some loose funds to spend in the southern region – & both of those outfits looking for a worthwhile project to spend those funds on. There’s a start. They need a direction.    

I’ve heard the San Gabriel watershed called the Central Park of Los Angeles, & though the analogy might not be entirely accurate I do agree the space serves a similar recreational function, I agree that it is deserving of equal care & stewardship. That is generally agreed on by most of the voices claiming a seat at the discussion table outlining their particular vision of what should happen in the Monument. And, as I review the various ‘stakeholders’, I am reminded that any plan going forward must be one that most benefits the environment of the Monument, secured as a natural area (not a city park), regardless. What benefits the habitat of the Monument is precisely what will benefit the most, ultimately. And though it is true that every voice deserves a place at the discussion table, it needs to be pointed out that there can be no compromise on the stream for habitat-destroying activities – that would only serve to give us what we already have: compromised, non-viable habitat. Non-extractive conservation ethics should prevail, & that serving to conserve both habitat & funds.

Yes, I believe it is possible to create an interface between the highly developed L.A. basin & the adjacent, fairly wild San Gabriel, & without the need to compromise sensitive habitat.

So what should the initial priorities be?             

In my view, the chief environmental priority should be the several miles of San Gabriel River mainstem, which is degraded at this time, while located in the widest portion of the canyon holding the most recreation potential. Indeed, if the San Gabriel River be the main vein, the mainstem segment, including that section of the East Fork canyon from Camp Williams downstream to the confluence with the mainstem, is certainly the heartbeat of the Monument.

The mainstem segment above the San Gabriel Reservoir was initially degraded with the building of the reservoir. There was some riparian habitat still remaining on the mainstem & up the lower East Fork canyon during the 1960’s, but the record rains of 1968-1969 raised a flood that scoured out the riparian habitat remaining in that segment & took out the stable streambed, leaving the mainstem segment the lifeless floodplain that it is now. After the flood leveled the streambed, off-road vehicle enthusiasts began to use the ruined segment, leveling it further. Unable to stop the flood of off-road vehicles the Forest Service bowed to the trend & added facilities to enhance off-roading, further contributing to degrading the streambed. It needs to be pointed out that recreational off-roading in streamside riparian areas is illegal under current California statutes – & it should be stressed: the segment is far too vital to the river’s function within the Monument to be used for activities as impactive as off-roading or placer mining.   

Why do I see the several miles of the San Gabriel River mainstem within the Monument as so important? As I said, it is the widest & most accessible portion of the canyon, holding the most recreational potential, while now, the most degraded high-value area within the Monument. Yet the nexus of my reason is this: The mainstem contains the most water, the greatest flow, & that critical to the survival of native trout inhabiting the system, particularly during times of drought, like what S. California is experiencing now. Native trout, particularly landlocked steelhead such as inhabit the San Gabriel, are highly migratory within their river systems, seeking the best feeding & spawning areas or deeper, cooler water during periods of low stream flow. As things are now, trout are unable to utilize the (potentially) deeper, cooler mainstem in its present state, so remain isolated up the branches, where their race shrinks in size conforming to the shrunken, truncated habitat. It is my view that, in the long run, a viable population of San Gabriel native trout will not exist without restoration of the mainstem streambed & habitat.                   

Some of the major players do see the river as first priority, attempting to gain a sort of parceled Wild & Scenic River status for the upper reaches of the San Gabriel (which has five dams spanning it & is contained in a concrete ditch for about forty miles of its total sixty-mile length). No doubt, the environmental pros know a lot that I don’t, but the W&SR status for a few small branches seems ironic to me, facetious, na├»ve at best (or desperate), when in reality the San Gabriel River is a famous example of what a wild & scenic river is not. And it will not be that just because we call it that. In any case, I suggest we admit that the San Gabriel River is severely degraded & move to focus the appropriate agencies on that problem within the new Monument – W&SR status or not. And, considering present statutes & options under the new Monument status, I don’t see how the W&SR status is particularly necessary toward expediting or getting the needed habitat work done. Status labels serve as a balm, however they don’t necessarily serve to lever actual rehabilitation. Native & Heritage Trout status labels have done nothing to protect the East Fork of the San Gabriel from ongoing illegal placer mining that has all but ruined the stream in recent years, for example.

Agencies place the blame on lack of funds for law enforcement, though my conversations with agency personnel might indicate ambiguous priorities are equally to blame. That’s not to say the Monument doesn’t need more personnel to ensure public safety & protect habitat, certainly that is a critical need, & should be at the top of the list of priorities. All seem to agree on that.

As citizen organizations concerned with the San Gabriel National Monument go forward with their respective plans, I urge all involved to consider rehabilitation of the mainstem floodplain, from the confluence with Bear Creek down to San Gabriel Reservoir, as an initial priority. Hopefully, fishery & angling organizations will see this as extremely beneficial, if not critical, to the survival of native San Gabriel trout & coalesce into an alliance to make this happen.

In my view, the San Gabriel River deserves & would benefit from catch & release, artificials only fishing regulations within the Monument. In perspective, it is not a lot of water, too small a system to be parceled & truncated. To be viable, it must be integrated, in actuality & in stewardship. So I call on the various fishing clubs & conservation organizations involved to make attaining catch & release regs, along with streambed & habitat restoration for the mainstem, a particular focus as we seek to integrate the remaining river system within the Monument. Our children will thank us for it, & the trout will reward us.                 

1 comment:

  1. Greetings! May I use your photograph and link to this page from the "Save The East Fork . Org" web site? I always like to ask people for permission before I link to their pages, but I also would like to use your photograph here. Would you please email me ? Thanks!