Angeles National Forest route never opened during deer season
By JIM MATTHEWS
On the eve of the D11 zone deer season opener on Oct. 12, Jamahl Butler, Angeles National Forest District Ranger, said that a series of road closures in his district would be ending for this deer season in the Sawmill-Liebre mountain region of the forest, a popular deer hunting area.
A number of the major forest routes in this region had been closed. Liebre Mountain road (7N23) had been closed for four years. All of the closures were because of major damage caused by rains over the previous years.
Why it would take four-plus years to do dirt-road repairs and maintenance on major routes in perhaps the most heavily-used national forest is this nation is a question that needs to be asked another time.
But let’s put that aside for a moment. The fact of the matter is that the work was finally being done this summer and fall, and the routes were again going to open to visitors. Back in early October, Butler said “the good news is that we are almost there. The majority of the contract work has been completed and the roads crew has made an impressive dent in the portion they have taken on.”
Butler said the road work had been completed on 7N01, 7N05, and 7N08 (Maxwell Road). Maintenance has also been completed on 12.1 miles of 7N23 (Liebre Mountain Road), and that the washout repairs on the west end of 7N23 near the Old Ridge Route would be completed by Nov. 1, if not sooner.
Liebre Mountain has long been a popular hunting, wood collecting, and camping area. Deer hunters started reporting the gates blocking 7N23 were still not open on Nov. 10. This now meant that it had now been five seasons since hunters were able to access this area. A popular campground on this route has now been closed for five years.
The irony of this is simply that the USFS didn’t need to close the 12-mile stretch of road at all.
The road was closed because of a single washout at the far west end of this road near the Old Ridge Route. The agency could have allowed access from the east end while the USFS was waiting for bureaucracy to grind for four years to get a contracts written, bids submitted and awarded, and the work completed.
Instead, the USFS closed the whole top of the mountain.
And then it didn’t get the road open when it said it would.
The Monday after the deer season closed, I fired off an e-mail to Butler with the photo I was sent of the still-locked gate on Saturday (the image had a date-time stamp). I was annoyed and frustrated and wrote to a man I had spoken with an e-mailed so much, I felt like we were old acquaintances: “Jamahl, This is just crap, man. What is the excuse now? Or are we closed due to fire closures now? Love to hear the current excuse. Thanks, Jim Matthews.”
Here is his verbatim response:
“First, I’d like to remind you that while you are welcome to ask questions whenever you have them my expectation (of both us) are that we continue to address each other respectfully regardless of our own personal frustrations. Second, we have had people going up to collect firewood pretty consistently since the major road repairs were completed. I had no reason to believe anyone had closed the gate. Also, the rec staff working in the area confirmed the gate was open on Sunday morning. I appreciate how disappointing this may have been for you to find out from your friend the gate was closed when he went up. As I stated when we first spoke, we are constantly working to improve our customer service and value added to the public and I intend to continue this effort.
“At any rate, I’m not sure there is more to discuss but you’re welcome to reach out to me if you would like clarification,” wrote Butler.
Well, we do need clarification. Either the hunter who sent a date-time stamped photo, and two others who called, were somehow lying, or Butler’s staff was lying or conveniently confused about which road we have been talking about. I wrote Butler back for clarification and haven’t heard from him since.
The bottom line is that we still don’t have an open road or an explanation for why it remained closed through the end of deer season. Stay tuned.
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.