Southern California will soon be home to the newest national monument in the country.
On Friday, President Obama plans to announce the creation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which will encompass 350,000 acres of land in the Angeles National Forest. That means, as the Los Angeles Times reports, about half of the San Gabriel mountain range will be granted monument status.
The monument designation comes after a campaign by San Gabriel Mountains Forever that spanned more than a decade. The coalition, which counts the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and multiple Latino groups among its members, has called for increased attention and protection for the San Gabriel Mountains, a range that it calls “woefully underfunded and underserviced.”
According to the group, the Angeles and the San Bernardino National Forests, which the mountains extend across, bring more than five million annual visitors to the region. The mountains also serve as a water source for one-third of Los Angeles’ population and are one of the main natural areas in the Los Angeles region, making up 70 percent of the Los Angeles County’s open space.
Matt Lee-Ashley, director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress, said one of the biggest benefits of the new monument is that it will provide Los Angeles residents more opportunity for outdoor recreation. That’s something that some communities in the city lack — limited access to parks contributes to child obesity rates of 30 to 40 percent in San Gabriel Valley, which lies east of L.A.
“For our community — and all visitors to the mountains — the national monument fulfills a long held dream to improve recreation for the greater LA and Southern California region which lacks green space and parks,” sad Mark Masaoka, Policy Coordinator for the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council said in a statement. “The monument is a powerful first step to connect Asian Pacific Islanders to the forest so that they will be caretakers for its clean water, fresh air and rich cultural history.”
Though the monument has run into some criticism from nearby residents who are wary of the impact increased federal protections will have on property rights and emergency services, it has the support of many Los Angeles residents, according one poll. That poll found that 80 percent of L.A. voters supported increased protection for the mountains, a percentage that was even higher among Latino voters.
“What we want to ensure, and what the president has focused on, is that all Americans, and the great of diversity of Americans, both have the opportunity to access these important places and can experience them [in perpetuity],” White House counselor John Podesta told the Washington Post in an interview about the monument.
The monument is the thirteenth President Obama has created or expanded during his administration. In May, the president created the largest national monument of his administration when he granted federal protection to the 496,000-acre Organ Mountain range in New Mexico. In September, he took his monument-granting powers to the sea, expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles — six times its current size.
In general, national monuments are granted more protections than national forests, so the protection of the swath of forest covered by the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument will see a boost in protection. National forests, though widely used for recreational activities like camping and hiking, are also designated as land that can be logged, mined, drilled and and grazed — the Gifford Pinchot ethic of conservation for the sake of using the natural resources conserved.
Monuments, on the other hand, don’t allow mining or drilling, and are usually created because of “historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest” in the region (and can also be granted to non-natural phenomena, such as the Statue of Liberty) — as opposed to national parks, which are typically created due to “outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena” of the region.