San Bernardino National Forest closes big portion of San Gorgonio Wilderness
By JIM MATTHEWS
The San Bernardino National Forest management has closed the about half of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. This closure impacts the most popular trails in the wilderness, including the trails that lead to Mt. San Gorgonio. The closure began this past Saturday, and the press release from the USFS says the area has been closed “due to hazards presented by the Valley Fire near Forest Falls.”
The Valley Fire has only burned about 1,350 acres as of Friday (USFS photo below), not growing an acre in size over the past week. While the USFS says it is only 29 percent contained, the fire is not going anywhere. Most of the fire is located on the far west edge of the wilderness, and very little of it in the wilderness itself. The fire has burned in steep, rugged terrain adjacent to Highway 38, literally miles from most of the area that has been put off limits to public users.
The closure is sheer lunacy and continues the San Bernardino National Forest’s legacy of public land closures using fire as an excuse to keep people out of vast areas. The bulk of the area closed this week just reopened last July because it was burned in the Lake Fire in 2015. Yes, that closure lasted two years for “public safety” and “resource” concerns. The U.S. Forest Service can’t document any greater public safety concern right after a fire as before a fire. Resource issues are no greater after a fire than before a fire because it takes illegal activity for resource damage to occur in either case.
Yet, we have been conditioned to having these closures take place for increasing durations of time after fires. This is simply wrong and wrong-headed management. Any fire closure lasting more than a couple of weeks past when the fire is completely contained is an affront to public recreation users that have a great track record of caring for our public land.
It is the forest service that is failing to take care of our lands with policies and poor management decisions that have increased the duration and size of the fires throughout the system. They blame long-term drought and a lack of budget. In reality, it is a lack of active forest management and fire prevention or containment actions before the blazes start. When you add in the costs of fighting fires, the amount of money spent by the U.S. Forest Service is higher than it has ever been.
But we yawn, and let the bureaucrats keep us off our public lands without real justification. This closure -- if no one complains or threatens a lawsuit -- could drag on for the rest of the summer or longer. It could be the Lake Fire closure all over again.
For hikers familiar with the area, this latest needless closure includes all the trails in the area, including extremely popular Vivian Creek Trail, Momyer Trail, San Bernardino Peak Trail, Forsee Creek Trail, South Fork Trail, and the Aspen Grove Trail.
The fire itself has been no joke. Nearly 650 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, San Bernardino County Fire and other cooperating agencies worked to slow the fire's spread over the last two weeks and accomplished that goal. However, extremely steep terrain and difficult access prevented crews from achieving full containment. There are currently 174 personnel assigned to the incident, down from nearly 500 from a week ago. The containment figure has changed little over the past week, but thanks to thunderstorms and little fuel at the edges of the fire in the steep terrain, the fire has not grown.
Bottom line: It is not a threat to the public in the vast closure area. With the weather we are having, hikers climbing San Gorgonio or Scouts going up to Poop Out Hill face a greater threat from a thunderstorm starting a fire or getting hit by lightning than the Valley Fire presents to them.
The public needs to let the San Bernardino National Forest brass know they are not happy about this closure. Jody Noiron, Forest Supervisor, can be reached by phone through the main office in San Bernardino at 909-382-2600, or you can post her a message via the website on the “contact us” page at this direct link:
Think about this. The San Gorgonio Wilderness is about 95,000 acres and the USFS has closed nearly half of the wilderness to public use because of the Valley Fire, a 1,300 acre wildfire on the far western edge of the wilderness that has not grown in over a week. Many of the trails and the bulk of the area closed are more than five miles from the fire perimeter. We can drive on Highway 38, which is right on the edge of the fire, but we can’t hike five miles away to San Gorgonio Peak.
Does this make sense to you?
The San Bernardino National Forest has closed over half of the San Gorgonio Wilderness to public use, ostensibly because of threats to the public from the Valley Fire, which has not grown an acre in over a week. The area outlined in red is the closure area. The fire perimeter is on the left side of the map outlined in black. The gray grid delineates square miles. The bulk of the closure is five or more miles from a fire that is not going anywhere.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.