Board approves River Master Plan over environmental group objections

LEWIS MacADAMS says it best on a bas relief commemorative sculpture at the park, which also bears his name. (Credit Miranda Robin)

From the Los Angeles Times:

After a coalition of environmental groups withdrew support for the L.A. River Master Plan over differences with its recommendations for uplifting the profile of the concrete flood control channel over the next 25 years, L.A. County officials decided Tuesday to move forward with the plan.

The groups had been threatening to walk away since Los Angeles County Public Works included far-reaching proposals submitted by famed architect Frank Gehry to transform the forlorn industrial confluence of the Los Angeles River and the Rio Hondo in South Gate into a cultural park.

Still, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt the final L.A. River Master Plan.

Right now, the world needs a small miracle

What are the chances against catching a little Rainbow Trout in Southern California? After this quick pic, he was back in the water, healthy and vigorous. (Credit: Jim Burns)

What are the obstacles against catching/releasing a native Rainbow in our local waters? Let’s list the Big Three:

Ongoing drought since 2001, which tree rings show is the driest 21-year period since at least 800 A.D. when Vikings sailed and Mayans built temples. (San Jose Mercury News)

Frequent forest fires, including 2020’s Bobcat Fire, which devastated the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. Local fly-fishing club members report there are no fish in a stream beloved by us all. I would add the footnote, “for now.”

Beginning in the 1930s, channelization to prevent flooding, dams and development block rainbows from returning to the Pacific Ocean and, conversely, steelhead from returning from the ocean to the San Gabriel Mountains to spawn.

Yet today, there he was, in a flow of cool, clear, crisp water. Small and full of fight, he glimmered like a slim beacon of hope.

In a world of seemingly unrelenting bad news — disease, gun violence, war and now economically crippling inflation — this is why I continue to trek in our local mountains and continue to cast a line into the seemingly impossible. In our waters, there are still possibilities, there is still hope. Remind yourself next time you are on the water that the mere act of continuing what for many of us is a retreating normal, miraculous life remains.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

FoLAR river clean-ups return June 4

This is a really fun event, so if you haven’t taken out some trash of the river yet, this could be your year to come on down, meet other volunteers and get to know our communities better. I’ve included the dates and spots over the eight weeks below. Click the link you want to register for free.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

SITES CURRENTLY AVAILABLE

Click on a site to register and reserve your spot early.

June 4: Sepulveda Basin – Balboa Blvd
6115 Balboa Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406

June 11: Sepulveda Basin – Bull Creek (with Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council and LA City Council District 6)
6300 Balboa Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406

June 18: Bette Davis Picnic Area (with LA City Council District 4)
Bette Davis Picnic Area, 1620 Rancho Ave, Glendale, CA 91201

June 18: North Atwater Park (with LA City Council District 13)
3900 Chevy Chase Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90039

June 25: Glendale Narrows Riverwalk
300 Paula Ave, Glendale, CA 91201

June 25: Red Car Bridge (with Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, Atwater Village Kids, and LA City Council District 13)
3530 Ferncroft Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90039

June 25: Sepulveda Basin – South Reserve (with US Army Corps of Engineers, Encino Neighborhood Council, and LA City Council District 6)
15520 Burbank Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411

June 26: Bond Park (with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition)
Bond Park, 3222 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039

July 9: Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park (with Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council and LA River Public Art Project)
Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park, 2944 Gleneden St, Los Angeles, CA 90039

July 9: Elysian Valley Gateway Park (with Glassell Park Improvement Association)
Elysian Valley Gateway Park, 2914 Knox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039

July 9: Steelhead Park (with LA River Communities for Environmental Equity)
Steelhead Park, 2239 Oros St, Los Angeles, CA 90031

July 23: Willow Street Estuary (with Conservation Corps of Long Beach)
2526 De Forest Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90806

July 30: Golden Shore Marine Reserve
Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve, 201 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA 90802

SITES COMING SOON

Join the Friend of the LA River email list to hear when registration opens for these sites.

July 16: Compton Creek (with LA Waterkeeper)
20342 Santa Fe Ave, Compton, CA 90221

July 16: Maywood Riverfront Park
5000 Slauson Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90058

LA Times: A hiker’s heartbreak on returning to L.A.’s fire-ravaged mountains

The closure is over, with some restrictions, but the damage from the Bobcat Fire won’t be for years to come. If you have any fly-fishing stories from the West or East forks of the San Gabriel, please email them to me for posting. I haven’t been able to return to the West Fork quite yet … .

Imagine if, every so often, a cataclysmic storm washed away a mile of beach. One year, the Santa Monica Pier — gone. Five or 10 years later, the cliffs overlooking Lunada Bay fall into the ocean. The scale of our climate emergency would be achingly clear to the legions of Angelenos who treasure our coast.

Something similar is happening in our mountains, where massive firestorms year after year are turning shaded trails into ashen hellscapes, permanently altering forests that have adapted over thousands of years to survive fire, but not this kind of fire. A few weeks ago, I got my first intimate glimpse of this destruction on a trail that opened to hikers April 1, following a 16-month closure by the U.S. Forest Service after the last fire.

I’m talking not about the Sierra Nevada and its giant sequoia groves — though the destruction there is grave — but rather the humble San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains, right on our doorstep. These mountains, which top out at more than 11,000 feet, make people who live in Los Angeles and love to hike in thin air extremely lucky folks.

We hikers are a cheerful bunch. But the sense lately that our forests have been pushed beyond their ability to recover has turned many into anxiety-stricken doomsayers, ever worried that the next cloud of smoke rising over the mountains on a hot, windy day means the fire has finally come for their spot.

And the last fire did indeed come for my spot — or I should say our spot, since it was a place I enjoyed with my three young children only months before the Bobcat fire stripped it of its foliage. That fire, from September to December 2020, scorched roughly 115,000 acres; it was the second-largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County, occurring only 11 years after the 2009 Station fire, which burned more than 160,000 acres (about the size of the city of Chicago). In fact, some areas of the forest were still recovering from the Station fire when the Bobcat fire devastated them again.

Now, I know burns are often beneficial to forests, but what came through much of the trail I hiked two weeks ago, high in the San Gabriels off Angeles Crest Highway, was cataclysmic. The dense forest was reduced to burned trunks that from a distance looked like blackened toothpicks. The nearby highway, once hidden from view by healthy trees, was almost always visible, as if to remind hikers of the fossil-fuel consumption driving this destruction.

Still, about halfway into the hike, there were signs of survival and renewal. An area that I feared had been damaged looked almost unscathed. Other hikers were enjoying this section of the trail, perhaps thankful as I was. This contrast — between being utterly unprepared for the destruction I saw and pleasantly surprised by what remained — prompted me to check in with an expert about this forest and these mountains, just to see if I was being alarmist.

“Sadly, no,” said Alan Coles, a 30-year U.S. Forest Service volunteer who spends most of his weekends working on public trails. “Because it’s the plants that adapt to the climate, not the climate that adapts to the plants.”

I knew of Coles from his letters to The Times about forest management and his contributions to an online trail guide. He has scouted some of the areas hit particularly hard by the Bobcat fire, working with trail restoration crews to allow for safe public access to the forest in time for the April 1 reopening (parts of the Bobcat fire burn area remain closed). He told me the area I saw, about 6,700 feet in elevation, was hit hard, so the pines and firs there were almost completely killed off, leaving little chance of recovery.

Over the coming years, he said, the dead trees will fall, probably to be replaced by lower-lying chaparral. He pointed out places where this is already happening, in areas burned by the 2009 Station fire and previous disasters. Throw in global warming and the droughts and wildfires to come that will surpass what we can imagine now, and it’s hard to imagine future wanderers enjoying the generous tree canopies that shade our mountain climbs on sunny days.

My conversation with Coles felt at times like an impromptu grief counseling session. We traded stories of places permanently changed, animals and plants disappearing from the forest, and our experiences with the dreaded poodle dog bush (it’s a “fire follower” growing everywhere now, and under no circumstances should you touch it).

With much of the Bobcat fire burn area reopened and the summer hiking season about the begin, Coles and other trail workers want visitors to understand the forest is still in recovery: So stay on the trail, pack out trash, keep dogs leashed and — for the love of God — avoid starting the next fire.

As we were leaving the San Gabriels recently, I told my three children to look around and try to imprint on their memories what they were experiencing at that moment — the smells, the breeze, the rocky ridgeline trapping the last rays of daylight. Remember it, because every visit to the mountains could be your final goodbye to the forest you know.

— Paul Thornton, Los Angeles Times Letters Editor