Spotlight on Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor with Andrea Gullo (Executive Director, Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority)

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Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/ Whittier Daily News

Tell me about the Habitat Authority’s work.

The Habitat Authority manages a 3,870-acre wildland nature preserve in the western Puente Hills, and we manage it primarily for the biological preservation as well as low-impact recreation and outdoor education. We do a lot of things… We have about 3 rangers that patrol the hills to help keep the hills clean and safe. The rangers also provide a Junior Ranger outdoor education program free of charge for local schools. We do a lot of native habitat restoration on our property with over 200 acres worth so far, and we’re in the process of restoring approximately 100 more acres.

We also provide additional outdoor education programs through our Hills Alive program to grades K-6. The Hills Alive program and our Junior Ranger program are also supported by our volunteers. We’ve got a great volunteer team that help with all of our outreach as well as trail watch for us. They act as the rangers’ eyes and ears out on the trail because we can’t be everywhere at once.

We also do many other projects, like we’re in the process of doing a wildlife study, a trail-use survey, and then we also have the great pleasure of working on a multi-agency project that installed LA County’s first and only purpose built wildlife underpass at Harbor Blvd. The underpass strengthened the viability of Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. Before the underpass, we didn’t have proof of bobcats using the connection, but now we do know that. Bobcats are one of the top predators of the food chain. There were a lot of coyotes killed on Harbor Blvd, but now they use the underpass along with other small animals.

How will the Authority benefit from being designated as a national monument?

The National Park Service affiliation would help raise awareness about the significant resources in the Puente Hills, and the importance of preserving them resulting in increased intrinsic value. By including the Puente Hills, it would increase partnership with the National Park Service with technical assistance or interpretation. It would also bring prestige and recognition to the area. It would help protect public investments.

What are the main challenges the Habitat Authority faces?

We’re trying to accomplish a lot with a limited budget is one challenge. We do provide a lot of education activities through our Junior Ranger program. I think the community and trail users can benefit from even more outdoor education to learn more about the natural landscape and the hills around them to increase stewardship appreciation.

Another challenge is balancing recreation with long-term sustainability of natural resources. It’s a matter of finding a balance between preserving the environment and also providing outstanding low-impact recreation opportunities for the community.

What advice would you have for someone interested in the conservation area?

Follow your passion. If you’re interested in it, pursue it, read about it, volunteer your time, and become your own expert. If you do what you enjoy, I don’t think you could go wrong.

Any last thoughts to our readers?

The Puente Hills are a great place to hike and enjoy nature. If you come out on our trails, you’ll see all different types of wildlife and habitat. You can learn more about us by going to habitatauthority.org for trail tips. Visit our Facebook page and Twitter account to learn more about the flora and fauna and what we’re up to and how to get involved, or how to participate in activities in the Puente Hills.

We are always looking for volunteers and our trainings are in January. We are accepting applications at all times. We enjoy working collaboratively with the local communities around us (Whittier, La Habra Heights, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights), and we even partner with other organizations in the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. We are the western end of the Puente-Chino Hills Corridor, and our long-term goal is to create a sustainable preserve and part of that includes connecting to Chino Hills State Park.

Spotlight on Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor with Claire Schlotterbeck (Executive Director, Hills For Everyone)

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What was it like when you established the Chino Hills State Park, and how are things different now?

Claire: The act of establishing the state park has been going on and is still going on over the last 41 years. There wasn’t like a single moment where it happened. The group Hills For Everyone was formed in 1977 by a young man at the time named Dave Meyers, and he kind of ran into one too many bulldozers one day—ripping up hills that he hiked in as a boy and he couldn’t bear to watch the loss anymore. So, he joined forces with other like-minded people and formed Hills For Everyone. They thought of making it 4 regional parks because the park covered 4 counties—Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and San Diego—and that was too complicated, so they settled on a state park.

He hiked the hill so many times that he knew the lay of the land, and designed the park himself. He designed it in a unique way, along ridgeline boundaries so that once you’re inside the park, you don’t know that there are millions of people on the other side. When he started, there were 9 million people on the other side, and now, there are 18 million. One thing the ridgeline does is protect water quality for wildlife. Pesticides and herbicides cannot contaminate the water for wildlife that live there. Currently, we are not finished with the ridgeline. The eastern side is not in state ownership yet.

What it feels like is… I mean extraordinary. I get to see it everyday. “Rest my eyes on the natural ridgelines, and there is something that comes from that that’s rejuvenating.”

How are things different today?

Claire: A lot more people. A lot of youth. Some people who are not treating it well… We’re having a lot of problems with mountain bikers. We have 90 miles in the park and that’s not enough for them. They cut new trails with chainsaws, shovels, and hand saws. They go too fast, so they’re ruining the experience for people who are walking. That’s been a real disappointment.

The next real disappointment is that they were never there to help establish the park, unlike the horseback riders and the hikers. Mountain bikers never showed up to testify like the other groups. There were no mountain bikers before.

What are the main challenges you face to save the Puente-Chino Hills?

Claire: Of course, finding funding to buy the land. That’s the only way it’s eventually saved.

It’s to develop the political will among decision makers at all levels (federal, state, and local) to do it. I’ve never seen anything fail. You can save just about anything as long as there’s a political will. Term limits (every 6 years, every 8 years) have new people come in so you need to retell the story with every effort.

Make people feel like they can make a difference by saving the land. Many people say you can’t save the land, but there is political will to save the land. They want to see it saved, too. They just often don’t know what to do, don’t know the steps you need to take to save land. But, we’ve taken those steps, so a lot of things are in place. Now, it’s a matter of finding funding to save the land.

You always need a willing seller. There’s a lot of land to be saved, and you can’t do it unless you have a landowner to save it; you have work to do.

Funding for conservation efforts is more important than ever. What are some challenges that you encounter in obtaining funding?

Claire: Proposition 68 was a really big step forward. We used to have regular parks bond efforts that passed every 4 years. They weren’t as big but still useful. One other issue we have to fight is that a lot of money goes to Northern California because land is cheaper up there.

But down here is where the votes are. For a long time, Chino Hills State Park had good representation by Democrats and Republicans to bring funding.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a program called CAPP (Conceptual Area Protection Plan) and that analyzes property for whether they’re worth saving or not. We have a CAPP in place and approved by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. All the undeveloped properties in the park are in that CAPP, so they’re eligible for funding from the Department.

California State Parks have been another source of funding, but they have been struggling for 8-9 years and haven’t acquired land down south. They’re the people who should be buying some of the land next to the State Park. In the end, that’s who the rightful manager should be.

In Orange County, we passed Measure M, a transportation sales tax measure, and part of the funding we negotiated that $243 million from that measure be set aside for landscape-level mitigation. Rather than put in some palm trees and ice plants at freeway intersections, now they need to buy really big important parcels of land, so it’s real mitigation.

We’re hoping Measure A will offer some funding for the Puente Hills side in LA county. There’s also funding from Habitat Authority.

A lot of people are working to get cap-and-trade money in protection of land. For instance, if you buy a big piece of land that would otherwise go to development, you get a double bang for your buck. You get to keep the natural resources there that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but you also reduce the number of cars traveled because the houses aren’t there so the cars aren’t there.

The best way to reduce GHG emissions is to save land.

Puente Hills for everyone

How do you envision the San Gabriel Mountains Recreation Area can benefit the Puente-Chino Hills area?

Claire: I think there are a couple of things. There’s a long-range vision that would link the San Gabriel Mountains—and those are the mountains i grew up hiking in—down the San Gabriel River and into the Puente-Chino Hills and the Puente-Chino Hills into the Santa Ana Mountains that go all the way to Mexico. That’s a link and would have to go through the San Gabriel River.

The other interesting thing I heard from an eagle expert, and he also works on condors. He told me there are condors in Mexico because we maintained the natural landscape of the Puente-Chino Hills, condors will be able to fly up to the Santa Anas, fly over the San Gabriel Valley, and back up the San Gabriel Mountains. Imagine that… a condor with a 9-foot wingspan flying over the San Gabriel Valley. It needs to have those natural ridgelines to create the right kind of draft to keep it afloat.

Obviously, we’re all connected and the more we’re connected, the healthier we all are.

What would make your job easier?

Claire: More hopeful people. For instance, a lot of things we’ve been doing recently are to fight projects next to the State Park that would harm the State Park. And we just won one. It was a 17 year battle, and the owner took the case to Supreme Court. And we won. People were saying you can’t fight city hall. We prevailed because we could.

My dad was a professor at Harvey Mudd College, and there would be teams of four students assigned to a professor. They would be assigned to solve real-life technical problems, like AQMD and other companies would come to Harvey Mudd with real-life problems for students to solve. My dad’s philosophy was to give the hardest problem to the newest students because they hadn’t learned that you couldn’t do it. Just like how we won.

It just takes a few really good people to go the distance. If you step into it wanting to save land—in whatever way you choose—it’s just amazing how much can get done with very few people. The more good people that step into it, the easier it’s going to be.

 

Support Leadership This #GivingTuesday

We need good leaders, now more than ever.

This #GivingTuesday, we give thanks to the future leaders helping us care for our public lands and advocate for the protection and enhancement of our mountains, forests, rivers, parks, and urban open spaces.

Now is the time to lead, and to take a stand. Our public lands are being threatened — including our beloved San Gabriel Mountains National Monument — by a federal administration that has no regard for protecting our environment or serving our communities.

On this #GivingTuesday, you can take a stand with us and support our Leadership Development program to find, educate, develop and encourage a new generation of environmental stewards to carry on our work.

IMG_4546 1Earlier this month, we celebrated the 12th graduating class of our Leadership Academy at a newly created urban park, the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The six-month training program focuses on developing outreach and advocacy skills, civic engagement, and local community action, and it was inspiring to look around and see faces of local citizens ready to rise up and resist — to defend our public lands and demand justice for our underserved communities.

meg-convert-a-canIt was also inspiring to see previous graduates in the audience, including Meg Devine, who developed the Convert-A-Can project in the program several years ago and continues with running it today. The program enlists volunteers to turn trash bins into art installations, to curb graffiti and beautify our public spaces. Meg is among 121 Leadership Academy graduates have worked on projects to enhance and improve our public lands; provide access to nature for kids and families living in park-poor communities; clean our trails, rivers and streams; and educate students about environmental justice and the public health benefits of spending time in nature.

In addition to the academy, our Leadership program supports 100+ volunteers and dozens of super-volunteers activists working with us on community engagement projects. We are grateful for these volunteers and inspired by them. You can be, too. We can do this together.

With your support, we can continue to grow our Leadership program and work to protect the mountains and rivers in our area, to conserve resources and be more climate-resilient. We can continue to create more natural spaces, such as parks and bike paths, in our historically underserved neighborhoods. We can continue to connect people to public lands through more trails and other outdoor recreational opportunities, to improve public health.

With your help, we can find and support the leaders we need to ensure that everyone in the Los Angeles area — no matter where they live—has equitable access to the wide range of benefits that nature can provide.

Thank you for giving.

Event: Convert-a-Can on March 11

convert a can event poster

Roll up your sleeves! There’s another Convert-a-Can beautification event planned for Saturday, March 11 at the West Fork picnic area in the San Gabriel Mountains (close to Azusa).

Volunteers and artists will join event coordinator and San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy graduate Meg Devine to transform waste receptacles into works of art.

Painting begins at 8 am and will continue until the sun goes down. Supplies are provided. (Donations of paint will also be accepted!)

More:
Free food & drinks
Live Music
Raffle prizes

National Trails Day: Trail Work at Dagger Flat

 

Saturday, June 4 marks National Trails Day and SGMF member organization the Community Hiking Club will be working with volunteers on the Dagger Flat trail.

“Dagger Flat has a long history,” says Community Hiking Club’s Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel.”It was originally a Tataviam footpath, then the CCC made an actual trail out of it in the 1930s. No one ever used it after that because there were only a few people that lived in Newhall. Currently we are the 2nd largest population that abuts the forest, and we are in great need to some local access to the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. This trail connects two Congressional Districts and it is my dream to see all of the congressional districts surrounding the forest connected by trails. Dagger Flat has amazing views, and some great rare plants. My two favorites are Scarlet Larkspur and the endangered Plummer’s Lily.”

Academy Class Report: Community Engagement

We stepped outside the classroom for this week’s Leadership Academy training — for community engagement opportunities with local SGMF partner organizations. Participants learned about bicycle safety and mechanics at BIKESGV’s bicycle education class, planted native plants with Amigos de los Rios at the Jeff Seymour Family Center, and cleaned up the east fork of the San Gabriel River with the Sierra Club.

Event: World Soil Day at Peck Park

WHAT: Join us as we celebrate World Soil Day with work to protect our soil and continue restoration efforts

WHERE: Peck Water Conservation Park (5401 N. Peck Rd., Arcadia, CA 91006)

WHEN: Saturday, December 5, 9 am to noon

WHO: Hosted by Amigos de los Rios and San Gabriel Mountains Forever

MORE INFO: For World Soil Day, we will be protecting our soil—with mulch! Also: caring for native plant and habitat restoration areas. We will supply the materials, work gloves, and tools.

7 Things to Know About Soil and Climate Change (Climate Change LA on KCET)

Check out our calendar for more information (and for more events!)