Monday, September 14, 2009

Remembering Better Times Inside the Angeles National Forest

(Pics from happier times inside the Angeles forest.)

The first reports are in from how the Angeles National Forest fared with the Station Fire -- and it's not good.

The Pasadena Star-News' Dan Abendschein visited the forest -- still off limits for the most part -- and says the view is heartbreaking:

The news is not good. The lower end of the forest, up to the intersection with Big Tujunga Canyon Road, is absolutely devastated. There are stretches where there is almost no foliage left anywhere in sight. Guard rails are laying on the side of the road, the wooden posts that held them up burned to ashes. Without any trees left for wind break, yesterday's slight breeze felt very strong, sending up little dust devils whirling around the charred landscape.

There are few bright spots left for outdoors enthusiasts. Hiking trails off Big Tujunga Canyon Road will be useless. The trail up to Strawberry Peak that starts near Mt. Wilson is burned.

The backside of Mt. Wilson is one of the few exceptions in the area. Firefighters did an amazing job protecting the area, and hiking trails down in the canyon next to it could still be intact. Another bright spot is Switzer Falls, an extremely popular picnic area low in the park. Though the fire burned hillsides on either side of the canyon it sits in, the canyon itself is still mostly intact, especially right in the picnic area. The hiking trails in the area may not be open for a while, though, as trees and boulders have rolled down the hills into the canyon.

The L.A. Times editorial page stressed the need for better funding to help restore the Angeles National Forest:

Civilization grows so close to the Angeles that simply leaving its ash-strewn acres alone will not be enough to restore it. The landscape will need time to regrow; it must be protected from rogue bikers who see an opportunity to cut new trails across sensitive terrain, and from marijuana farmers and squatters. Any archaeological sites revealed by fire -- such as caves or petroglyphs -- must be mapped and preserved. Existing trails will need to be repaired. Tree planting will help bring back shaded forest areas. Invasive species that attempt to take hold must be rooted out. Something will have to be done about animals that have lost their habitat and show up in suburbia searching for food and water.

Such civic-minded groups as the Boy Scouts, the Sierra Club and the Warrior Society, a mountain-biking organization, will almost surely volunteer to help. That community involvement is welcome and vital, but it's not enough. The national forests and parks have been underfunded for years and show it. Facilities are worn, the maintenance backlog is staggering, pine bark beetles are destroying woods and staffing is inadequate for policing, let alone conducting field studies and replanting natural environments.

Modern Hiker, meanwhile, has a strong post on how to help the forest begin its recovery:

The way I see it is this – we should all do our best to try to pitch in to the best of our ability. In all likelihood, we will not be allowed to hike in the Western San Gabriels for quite some time — so why not use one or two of our hiking weekends per month replanting trees, rebuilding trails, or volunteering at information desks?

Full recovery will likely take decades, especially for the higher burn areas. But every hour we volunteer to the rehabilitation efforts will not only help speed up the likely re-opening date, but will also ensure that future generations get to hike through the same forested, green canopies we got to enjoy.

The fires are still burning, although we can't smell the smoke or see the flames anymore. Authorities pushed back the target date for full containment of the Station Fire until this Saturday.

Then, the healing can finally begin.

(All pics from a visit we took up to the snow in 2008.)

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