Only half of San Gorgonio Wilderness is reopened to the public for hiking, hunting


By JIM MATTHEWS

www.OutdoorNewsService.com

After weeks of phone calls and pressure from public recreation users, half of the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the San Bernardino National Forest has been reopened to public use this week. Nearly the entire wilderness had been closed to public access since mid-July, ostensibly because of a perceived danger to the public from a fire than has not increased in size since the forest order was issued.

The western half of the wilderness remains closed because, according to Joe Rechsteiner, the Front Country District Ranger, “the remaining closure area is for the public's safety. If the fire flares up and heads deeper into the wilderness, visitors could be put at risk. Unlike areas along Highway 38, getting firefighters into the wilderness can take longer."

While only listed as 82 percent contained as of Friday, the fire has been effectively contained since just days after it started July 6. The fire burned 1,350 adjacent to Highway 38 the first day or two before fizzling in steep, rocky terrain. With crews still on the scene monitoring the few smoldering spots left in this extremely rugged terrain and ready to call in for aerial and ground attacks should there be any flare ups, the public using the adjacent wilderness faces a much greater risk from a new fire started by a lightning strike.

Don’t believe for a second the bureaucracy isn’t considering this.

The whole idea that we need to be protected from extremely unlikely events is today’s mantra with the U.S. Forest Service – as least in some areas. It’s almost to the point where vast areas of the forest will be closed on a whim for long periods of time because of a perceived threat, even if there is no historic evidence or scientific documentation to support the closures:

-- Monsoon season and thunderstorms: Ban the public from the wilderness because a lightning fire could start and they might get caught in the flames. Never mind that has never happened.

-- Hunting season: Ban hikers in wilderness because someone could be shot. Or ban hunters because they might shoot someone by accident. Never mind that it has never happened.

-- Wildflower season: Ban the public from the forest because they might pick flowers or trample down the plants while taking pictures. Never mind that negative impacts can’t be documented.

-- Fawning season: Ban the public so the deer can drop their fawns in peace and increase fawn survival. So how do you keep the bears and coyotes from bothering the deer?

-- Camping season: Ban camping on public forests because there is an increase in fires during the summer and fall when people camp the most. Must be a correlation so we should keep the public out.

-- Pine cone season: Ban camping and hiking in areas with mature trees holding pine cones that could fall from the trees and kill or injure the public. This actually apparently happened once and would be a good reason to keep the public out of the forest.

These are public lands – public, as in us – and increasingly, they are being managed as the king’s forest, off limits much of the time to the public.

Half of the San Gorgonio Wilderness reopened not because the Valley Fire’s threat was reduced, but because enough of you called and e-mailed and posted to hiking and other outdoor recreation forums and social media platforms to question the service to the public of closing these public lands. You can’t vote these bureaucrats out of their jobs, but you can make their life miserable for stupid decisions that impact you.

So if this partial reopening a victory? Hardly! The new closure order almost assures the west side of the wilderness will not reopen until long after this summer’s hiking and this fall’s hunting seasons are long over. The order is not set to expire until the last day of 2018. Why?

So the lunacy continues. If you want to comment or complain to the San Bernardino National Forest, you can do so a number of ways. You can contact Jody Noiron, Forest Supervisor, 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: https://www.fs.usda.gov/contactus/sbnf/about-forest/contactus.

Map information: The U.S. Forest Service has issued a new order opening up half of the San Gorgonio Wilderness that was needlessly closed over a month ago. The wrath of hikers and hunters who complained certainly had a role in partial reopening. However, half of the main east-west trail through the wilderness (1W07) between the Pacific Crest Trail and Angeles Oaks remains closed needlessly locking out hunters and hikers.

Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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