Central and Southern Coast
In September 2005, the U.S. Forest Service released the Final Land and Resource Management Plans for the four Southern California National Forests.
National forests, like cities and counties, are zoned for various levels of development. The documents that describe these zones and what is allowed in them are called "land and resource management plans," (LRPMs) and must be revised every 10-15 years.
The Final LRMPs for Southern California's Cleveland, Los Padres, Angeles, and San Bernardino National Forests cover more than 3,530,000 acres of land, including 1,065,000 acres of unprotected wild lands.
These four forests are critically important because of their ecological diversity and precarious location next to some of America's most urbanized regions. They host most of the remaining habitat for the California condor, kit foxes, and dozens of other endangered species of plants and animals, as well as most of southwestern California's remaining open space. The Forest Service was urged to release final plans that would provide adequate protection for the many ecological and social values that make the four forests irreplaceable. The agency's plans failed in almost every respect.
Most notably, the Forest Service rejected its opportunity to make those 1 million acres off-limits to development until Congress can permanently protect them by designating them as federal wilderness. The plan allows motorized vehicle use and development in the majority of the forests' roadless areas. This means that off-road vehicle use, road construction, utility development, and other development projects will be allowed in most of the 1 million acres of roadless lands. Instead, the Forest Service only proposed a mere 8% of those wild lands – 86,000 acres – as wilderness.
CWC and other conservation groups are challenging the plans to protect one of Southern California's most vital natural resources.
In October 2006, Representative Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) introduced the California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act, H.R. 6270, which will protect more than 125,000 acres of forests and desert as wilderness in her Riverside County district.
The special places proposed for protection in H.R. 6270 represent some of the best remaining wild areas in southern California and include:
- Agua Tibia Proposed Wilderness Additions (1,950 acres): A land of steep canyons cloaked in coastal sage scrub habitat, this once-common plant community is quickly being replaced by development in much of southern California, a phenomenon that has rendered the Agua Tibia area a haven for endangered plants and animals.
- Beauty Mountain Proposed Wilderness (16,700 acres): The Beauty Mountain area is an ecological transition zone between the desert on the east and the endangered coastal sage scrub habitat of the Coast Range on the west. As such, it serves as a critical bridge for migrating wildlife in a rapidly urbanizing region. The Bureau of Land Management considers Beauty Mountain's Million Dollar Spring to be one of the most pristine watersheds in all of southwestern California.
- Cahuilla Mountain Proposed Wilderness (7,131 acres): Visitors who climb to the top of the mountain are greeted by spectacular views in all directions. Spring wildflower displays are magnificent. Cahuilla Mountain is the setting for the novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, a historically important work published in 1884.
- Joshua Tree National Park Wilderness Additions (78,150 acres): A wonderland of craggy peaks, narrow canyons, fascinating rock formations, cactus gardens and astounding spring wildflower displays all under a seemingly endless blue sky, the additions are a critical refuge for bighorn sheep and desert tortoise
- South Fork San Jacinto Proposed Wilderness (21,760 acres): The lush canyon of the South Fork San Jacinto River is the centerpiece of this wonderfully wild place. The popular South Fork Trail offers a challenging hike to the river bottom with many impressive views along the way.
In addition to the proposed wilderness areas, the bill would add 3,500 acres to the existing Santa Rosa/San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and would protect Palm Canyon Creek, the North Fork San Jacinto River, Fuller Mill Creek and Bautista Creek from dam construction by designating them as federal wild and scenic rivers.
In announcing the introduction of her bill, Representative Bono noted that the legislation "…is the product of many discussions between our office and community and environmental stakeholders. By continuing to work together and forge ahead, we will get this bill to the President's desk."
Reprinted with permission from Friends of the River, and the Ventana Wilderness Alliance.
Carved by six rivers and many creeks and streams, the Santa Lucia Range is best described by its waterways. It is where the land and water overlap that life is richest and most complex. And that, too, is where a river's greatest value often lies.
Because their upper watersheds are largely undisturbed, these rivers and streams are an important source of clean water for Monterey County residents, farmers, and industries. Their highly productive ecology includes rich riparian habitat, the state's southernmost redwood forests, and the rare Santa Lucia fir. They provide opportunities for popular outdoor recreation, and they are rich in historic and pre-historic culture. They also provide the best remaining habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species, including the Central Coast steelhead trout, California condor, foothill yellow-legged frog, Dudley's lousewort (a rare native wildflower), and many others.
Although much of the Santa Lucia Range is protected as Wilderness, the rivers deserve the additional protection provided by the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. The Wilderness system prohibits roads, motorized use, and logging, but the Wild & Scenic system helps even more. It requires federal managers to actively preserve the free flowing nature of the rivers and their unique qualities. It specifically protects the rivers for future generations.
A good first step was taken toward this important goal in 1992, when the upper portions of the Big Sur River were added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. When Congress protected the Big Sur River, it directed the U.S. Forest Service to study additional rivers for possible protection.
In that 2005 study, the Forest Service said parts of the Arroyo Seco River, North Fork Little Sur River, and the San Antonio River in the Los Padres National Forest were eligible for Wild & Scenic protection. Yet it recommended that Congress protect only the Arroyo Seco. Friends of the River, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and other conservationists who were heavily involved in this process were disappointed by the scant protection proposed.
We are convinced that the following rivers and streams draining the Santa Lucia Mountains are eligible for federal protection because they are free flowing and possess outstanding values: the Arroyo Seco River and its tributaries, Tassajara Creek and Church Creek, Big Creek, Carmel River and Miller Fork, the North and South Forks Little Sur River, Nacimiento River, San Antonio River and its tributaries, San Carpoforo Creek, and Willow Creek.
Trail name: Vicente Flat Trail
Distance: 5.3 miles one way; or 10.6 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate; 2,000' elevation gain
Features: Starting alongside scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur, the trail ascends chaparral-covered slopes and grasslands before turning eastward into Hare Canyon. Fabulous ocean views are available along the trail. Passing through open grasslands and stands of redwoods along with oaks and bays, the trail arrives at Vicente Flat Camp. The flat is set in a grove of redwoods, some of which are 10' in diameter. The creek flowing through the flat may be dry later in the season if it's a drought year. Spring is the best time to visit when wildflowers are in abundance, but the area is accessible year-around. The trail has recently been maintained by a Ventana Wilderness Alliance trail crew.
Formed mostly of speckled granite capped by dark black basaltic lava, the 7,703' mass of Chocolate Mountain resembles a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream topped with chocolate syrup dropped in the middle of the desert.
For more information: Contact Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District at (805) 968-6640. For trail conditions, visit: www.ventanawild.org/trails/vicentef.html or www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres.
Directions to trailhead: Located directly across Highway 1 from the Forest Service's Kirk Creek campground, the trailhead is 54 miles south of Carmel. If you are coming from the south, it's 41 miles north of Cambria.
CWC would like to thank Gordon Johnson of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance for his generous suggestion of this hike. For more information about the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, visit www.ventanawild.org.