H.R. 2215

San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act


July 10, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2215, a bill to establish as a unit of the National Park System the San Gabriel National Recreation Area in the State of California, and for other purposes.

The Department understands the desire of the sponsors of H.R. 2215 to enhance the protection of resources and increase opportunities for recreation within the San Gabriel River and Mountains area of greater Los Angeles.  However, we do not support establishing a national recreation area that would be administered by the National Park Service (NPS) in that area, as Title I of H.R. 2215 would do.  We defer to the Department of Agriculture for a position on the expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, and the designation of wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers provided by Title II of H.R. 2215.

Title I of H.R. 2215 would establish the San Gabriel National Recreation Area as a unit of the National Park System, incorporating portions of the San Gabriel foothills, San Gabriel and Rio Hondo River corridors, and western Puente Hills, totaling 51,107 acres.  The bill would direct the NPS to manage public lands within the National Recreation Area but not affect the uses of Department of Defense lands or any non-Federal lands.  The bill requires the establishment of a comprehensive management plan, including a visitor services plan, by the NPS jointly with the 22-member advisory council established by the bill. In addition to the advisory council, the bill would establish a 19-member partnership organization among Federal, State and local government agencies, utility and water districts, and other organizations to carry out resource protection, recreation, education programs and projects, and use Federal funds to make grants, enter into cooperative agreements, and hire staff.

The park unit that would be established by H.R. 2215 would be unlike any other entity in the National Park System.  With an advisory council that has a joint role in creating the management plan for the unit, and a partnership organization modeled partially on a national heritage area local coordinating entity, we believe that the management of the area would be complicated and confusing.  In addition, the NPS would manage little, if any, Federal land within the designated area.  It is unclear exactly what the NPS role would be under this legislation.

The effort to include the land within the proposed San Gabriel National Recreation Area within the National Park System has a long history.  Congress authorized the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains special resource study in 2003 to determine whether this area was appropriate for inclusion in the National Park System.  The study area included the San Gabriel foothills, the San Gabriel River and Rio Hondo River corridors, and the western Puente Hills, as well as a large swath of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Because of the scope and complexity of the study area, and the extensive public outreach that was conducted, the study was not completed until 2013.  The study found that a portion of the area met the criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, but recommended that the area be added as a unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area rather than designated as a separate national recreation area.

New considerations have emerged since the study was completed.  Most importantly, in 2014, 346,177 acres of land in the San Gabriel Mountains, managed as part of Angeles National Forest by the U.S. Forest Service, were designated by presidential proclamation as a national monument.  This designation protects the natural and cultural resources of the majority of lands within the study area and ensures that they will be available for public recreation.  We note that Title II of H.R. 2215 would add another 109,143 acres to the national monument to the east and south of the existing monument, increasing the amount of protected land in the vicinity by a significant amount.

Second, the legislation contains a management arrangement that is a significantly different scheme than the NPS recommended in its special resource study for the San Gabriel area communities.  The study envisioned an extension of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is administered with a strong partnership component but without the complex, seemingly unworkable structure provided under H.R. 2215.

Third, the Department is giving increasing scrutiny to every proposal to expand the responsibilities of the NPS in light of the need to reduce the $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog and address other critical national park needs.  As an example of a critical need in the Los Angeles area, the NPS is working to recover from the devastating effects of the Woolsey Fire, which burned a substantial portion of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in November 2018.

While we do not support enactment of Title I of H.R. 2215, if the Committee decides to act on this bill, we would like to work with the Committee and sponsors to address the issues raised in this statement.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department on this bill. 

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