RIVERSIDE – SAN DIEGO – About 380,000 acres of wilderness areas in four Southern California national forests would be declared off-limits to vehicles under plans that are up for public comment this month.
Large sections of the Santa Ana Mountains, between Irvine and Lake Elsinore, would be affected, as well as areas near Lytle Creek, near Cherry Valley and south of Palm Springs. The largest new proposed wilderness area is adjacent to the Sespe Creek wilderness areas north of Ojai.
The new wilderness areas are one if several options being considered by the U.S. Forest Service, which is under court order to follow Congressional directives to declare part of the local mountains wilderness.
Wilderness plans put forth during the early Bush administration had exempted most of the lands from wilderness consideration, but several environmental groups sued and won a settlement after the Obama administration was inaugurated, in 2011.
The Forest Service plan would prohibit road building and some commercial uses in 380,000 acres of forested mountains in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. About 80,000 acres of that would face tighter restrictions, including a ban on cross country bicycle use.
The Forest Service plan is not as restrictive as hoped for by the environmental groups who won the suit. Sierra Club members said the federal plan does not adequately protect biodiversity in some ”hot spots” where unique animals and plants are threatened.
Mountain bike enthusiasts are unhappy with some proposed closures. But some off-road vehicle clubs in the Big Bear area have said they have already won areas for their use.
Public meetings to discuss the Forest Service plans are scheduled fro across Southern California. The Inland Empire meeting is at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the San Bernardino National Forest headquarters, 602 S. Tippecanoe Ave.
In the Los Angeles area, a meeting will be 4-7 p.m. Monday at the Angeles National Forest headquarters, 701 N. Santa Anita Ave., Arcadia, and 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the ranger station at 33708 Crown Valley Road in Acton.
In northern Los Angeles County, residents can attend a meeting from 4-7 p.m. April 7 at the Mt. Pinos ranger station, 34580 Lockwood valley Road, in Frazier Park.
In San Diego County, a meeting will be held from 4-7 p.m. Monday at the Alpine Community Center, 1830 Alpine Blvd. Another meeting will be from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Palomar ranger station, 1634 Black Canyon Road, in Ramona.