Editorial: Why are fish missing from new San Gabriel National Monument Plan?


Beautiful color on this trout, which was released, unharmed, back to the water. (Jim Burns)

Beautiful color on this trout, which was released, unharmed, back to the water. (Jim Burns)

By John Tobin

Guest Contributor


Less than an hour’s drive from here, up in those dry and dusty San Gabriel Mountains, are three rare and precious wild trout streams, the West, North and East forks of the San Gabriel River.

Under arbors of alder, sycamore and oak, they run clear and cold all year long, despite drought, and harbor wild rainbow trout. Some of the rainbows are direct descendants of steelhead trout, which went to and from the sea for eons before the dams were built.

The streams are also home to some threatened and endangered creatures, including the Santa Ana speckled dace, that exists only in the Los Angeles basin. These flows are always under pressure, and not just from the lack of water. They frequently suffer from overuse by crowds of visitors, some of whom trash them and others who damage them with illegal gold mining and with what the forest service calls “recreational dam building.”

The forest service has long been hard pressed to protect them: not enough money, and not enough staff.

The many people who know and love these streams were naturally excited when President Obama designated the National Monument in the fall of 2014, anticipating that plans and resources would be developed to better protect these waters. And so the fishers, the hikers and the mountain bikers, together with professional fishery experts, weighed in during the requisite public comment period to tell the forest service what they thought should be done for these streams in the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Plan.

At the end of that process, the forest service produced a summary of the comments and an outline of the issues and concerns they determined should be the focus of the plan. Sadly, the outline for their management plan does not include any focus on these streams.

Consequently, in accordance with the forest service’s planning policies, all of the stream-specific comments and recommendations that were submitted by the public were ignored. They will not have an influence on the management plan for the national monument.

If this concerns you, let the forest service know:

Contact Justin Seastrand, Environmental Coordinator, Angeles National Forest, at jseastrand@fs.fed.us, or Superintendent Jeffrey Vail, at JVail@fs.fed.us.

Don’t have to wait for the next public comment period later this winter or spring, when part of the environmental assessment will be published. It may be too late by then.

John Tobin is the conservation chair for the Pasadena Casting Club.

Quick mends: Army Corps to erect barriers, cut vegetation in Glendale Narrows

VIEW from the Glendale/Hyperion Bridge in 1937. (Courtesy LA Public Library)

VIEW from the Glendale/Hyperion Bridge in 1937.
(Courtesy LA Public Library)


The barriers are going up now on east sidea of river. I was in the north Atwater park area and they are working their way south from Colorado Blvd. They have have made it to the park. Lights were being turned on and it didnt look like they were stopping for the night. Forget about any river access in that area!


I found this recent story that I saw on TV news as well as read in the L.A. Times pretty confusing. From the story:

“We’re hoping for the best, but we’re going to continue to prepare for the worst,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “… If [the river] floods, there is risk of significant damage, not to mention real and immediate danger to Angelenos.”

If you’ve been down to Glendale Narrows, you know that the river encasement is already high, 20 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study so what could a temporary four-foot-high barrier accomplish that isn’t already there? And for $4.5 million?

But the more vexing part of this emergency solution is “removing debris.” If the Corps removes the islands and plant life that dot the area, you can kiss the only structure fish have goodbye. It’s also a very healthy bird habitat. The NBC story indicates this is already taking place. Here’s the 2013 draft redesign plan for that area:

(U.S. Army Corps)

(U.S. Army Corps)

Existing Channel Features – The existing trapezoidal channel within the sub-reach varies from grouted rock to concrete paved channel, is 310 feet wide from the top of bank and 20 feet high from the invert.

Preliminary Channel Design – As seen in Figure 4.12, ” Cross-Section 5, Los Feliz Boulevard to Glendale Freeway,” the proposed design would construct four concrete terraced planters in the left/east bank of the channel slope. The right/west bank of the trapezoidal bank would be replaced by a 22-foot-high vertical retaining wall with subdrainage under the invert slab, which would meet the existing top of bank. Two riprap toedowns would be constructed below the channel bottom and bank. The first riprap toedown would be constructed on the right/west bank and the second that would include bank protection, would be located on the left/east bank. Two 16-foot-wide asphalt concrete maintenance roads would be constructed on the land of the retaining walls on the top of bank. The existing cobble/soft bottom would be protected in place and expanded 27 feet towards the proposed right/west bank of the channel.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

FoLAR debuts fishing line recycling program

RECYCLING: FoLAR has place three tubes along the river as part of a pilot program. (Jim Burns)

RECYCLING: FoLAR has placed three tubes along the river as part of a pilot program. (Jim Burns)

In another first, the advocacy group Friends of the Los Angeles River has installed three tubes for fisherfolk to safely discard used line in selected spots along the river’s upper banks. Trout Unlimited provided the funding, while both Councilperson Mitch O’Farrell (13th District) and the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council provided their political imprimatur.

“We support FoLAR taking a stance on discarded fishing line, while educating anglers who are new to fishing the L.A. River as well as the anglers who have fished the river for decades,” wrote AVNC co-chairs Torin Dunnavant and Courtney Morris in their letter of support.

Both the AVNC and O’Farrell’s office cited a trigger event for better line management, the death of a Great Blue Heron, called Fred by locals, who was caught in fishing line, seriously injured and subsequently died as marine biologists attempted to nurse him back to health.

Monofilament may seem harmless enough, but it represents both an eco-hazard as well as a possible deadly ensnarement for the wildlife so abundant on the river. According to FoLAR, birds can be attracted to the fishy smell on used line, then become hopelessly ensnared while digging for it in convention trash cans. Also, monofillament does not degrade over time leaving what amounts to an ageless hazard if not dispossed of properly.

As awareness has increased among state agencies, fishing clubs and individual anglers, these recycling tubes have become more common on streams. For example, a tube sits next to the angler survey box at the beginning of the catch and release section of the West Fork of the San Gabriel, a popular area for local flyfishers.

Each week, the tubes’ contents will be sent to the Berkley Conservation Institute in Iowa. The company, which produces conventional fishing line, recycles used line into 4-foot cubicle fish habitats it calls “Fish-Habs.” According to the company’s website, since 1990, BCI has recycled more than 9 million miles worth of fishing line. That’s enough line to fill two reels for every angler in America.

At the close of recreational zones on Labor Day, the program results will be re-evaluated to measure impact and the tubes could become a permanent fixture on the river.

Currently, the tubes are located at the Glendale Narrows Dover Street river entrance in the yoga pocket park, Acresite Street and FoLAR’s own Frog Spot. Future rollouts include the Bowtie Parcel and Marsh Park, if the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority that patrols the area agrees.

Fishing has only recently become legal on the river, during a certain time — Memorial Day through Labor Day — and within certain places, the carefully defined recreational zones below Fletcher Bridge, the so-called Elysian Valley River, and in a stretch in the Sepulveda Basin River in the San Fernando Valley. The fact that the pilot line recycling tubes lie outside these boundaries speaks to the growing number of anglers who search for the best places to fish, regardless of geographic boundaries.

SIGNS OF CHANGE: A new condo complex abutts the very spiffy Marsh Park within the rec zone. (Jim Burns)

SIGNS OF CHANGE: A new condo complex abutts the very spiffy Marsh Park within the rec zone. (Jim Burns)

“As the LA River is reborn, it needs the help of a variety of river huggers: fisherfolk, bird watchers, dog walkers, nature strollers.  It’s important that everyone who has a particular interest respects the interests of others, and lost or discarded fishing line can ensnare the birds and other creatures that call the river home,”” Robert Blankenship, president of Trout Unlimited’s south coast chapter, said. “We encourage all fishermen to discard used line in the collectors, and would appreciate anyone who sees old fishing line in the river area to please use the collectors as well.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick mends: Devil’s Gate Dam final Environmental Impact Report hits L.A. supes Wednesday

Wild trout, such as this one, still swim the waters of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Jim Burns)

Wild trout, such as this one, still swim the waters of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Jim Burns)

UPDATE: Despite strong opposition from neighbors and recreational enthusiasts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a five-year project Wednesday to remove debris from a basin above Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena. — Los Angeles Times

Generations of fly fishers have relished the area above the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which before the massive 2009 Station Fire and subsequent flood the following year, enjoyed a reputation as an enjoyable fishery. This reputation, for now at least, has certainly faded. On top of back-to-back environmental disasters, we’re in this ongoing drought. But remember, these skinny waters still contain native trout, and this region was once one of the coveted destinations for returning spawning Southern California Steelhead.

The area is important to protect, even though, for some mysterious reason, it was left out of the final draft of the San Gabriel Mountains national monument. That will be the topic of another blog post.

So today’s question: Do we need a human-made disaster on top of all of this?

Take a look at this PDF from the Arroyo Seco Foundation, the environmental voice of our conscience for this area. Anyone with a brain would want the “Pasadena Alternative” — unanimously approved by the Pasadena City Council — instead of the much more invasive one proposed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. As the Pasadena Star-News put it:

The City Council this week unanimously approved a set of recommendations for the county’s sediment removal plan in Devil’s Gate Dam, in its ongoing fight to prevent the treasured Hahamongna recreation area from turning into a giant ditch.

For example, the original county plan counted 400-plus trucks per work day, for five years, to haul away sediment, while the Pasadena plan calls for a quarter of that amount, an estimated 120. The county’s plan for habitat impact — a euphemism for “no more fishing” — measures more than 120 acres, while the Pasadena plan calls for 40 acres, including a 10-acre “conservation pool.”  From what I read here, the county has somewhat backed off on its original proposal, but not nearly to the degree concerned homeowners want.

The final Environmental Impact Report comes before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, as the flood control district seeks approval for its chosen alternative. According to this story La Canada city officials are scrambling to get their objections heard before it’s too late.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Physicist Richard Muller explains global warming to Occidental College audience

Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Activist physicist Richard Muller spoke at Occidental College today, explaining to a mostly student audience exactly why he became a “converted skeptic” about  the human causes of global warming.  In 2011, Muller testified to the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee confirming an overall global warming trend, for which he later said: “Humans are almost entirely the cause.” But he also explained that his healthy initial skepticism came from reading untenable conclusions based on inadequate research.

His talk was both amusing and frightening. He repeatedly took former Vice President Al Gore to task, and reminded the audience of the little-known fact that a British judge would allow Gore to distribute his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” free to school children only if he included a list of nine errors, including that Greenland would melt, causing a massive ocean rise. Gore declined. He also reprimanded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for publishing in its fourth assessment report that the Himalayas would melt by 2030, which was not based on any science.

Muller blamed research “cherry picking,” as well as the politicizing of research contents as the culprits, and reminded the students to “remain objective.” He cited media reports as widely off the mark when it comes to global warming, saying that his own data show that there are no more hurricanes or tornadoes today than there were at the beginning of the century.

“This is something you all need to master,” he said.” How do you go about looking at a subject in a purely objective way? I would say that the thing that characterizes our civilization more than anything else was the discovery of objectivity. Remember that word and think about it.”

The professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Faculty Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as well as the founder of Berkeley Earth is also the best-selling author of  “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines” (2012).

On the frightening side were graphs showing rapidly increasing carbon emissions from the developing world, notably China and India. Muller, who drives a Prius, said that it did no good in solving global warming because the average citizens in those countries can’t afford to buy one. Rather, Americans should embrace affordable examples. His dual saviors were solar energy and natural gas.

Muller endorsed controversial fracking — coaxing natural gas and oil out of rocks through horizontal drilling — as the way to get China off carbon-producing coal and into cleaner natural gas. As U.S. carbon emissions slow, he said, this was the most efficient way to stop the heating up of the planet.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

With an eye to the Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program

Bird's eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

Bird’s eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

The City of Los Angeles is busy presenting the proposed 2013 Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program for Glendale Narrows with the second meeting occurring right now at City Hall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend, but will post when the final meeting is to occur, sometime next month. The idea is to get public comment on a plan to open up recreation within that approximately seven-mile stretch of our river.

I’ve read the pilot program and all you kayakers out there should be pretty excited. If passed, the proposal would mean that individual non-motorized boaters would be able to launch from North Atwater Park, Steelhead Park and Marsh Park,  from Memorial Day through Labor Day, when there is very little chance of a flood from torrential rain.  That also means you could be fly fishing from your kayak as well, because the proposal also calls for fishing, bird watching and hiking. Swimming would still be a no-no. And float tubes are just plain impractical because of low water.

Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regs would then apply in the river.

I really wonder what this would mean for the eradication of carp in the river, as the U.S. Army Corps views it as an invasive species, even though carp have been resident for decades.

From the report: On Aug. 28, 2012, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1201, which amended the Los Angeles Flood Control Act “to provide for public use of navigable waterways under the district’s control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes, when these purposes are not inconsistent with the use thereof by the district for flood control and water conservation.”

Stay tuned and see you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Useful links update Sepulveda Basin habitat destruction

California State Senator Kevin De Leon props up crushed vegetation while touring Sepulveda Basin's South Reserve. (Courtesy Grove Pashley)

California State Senator Kevin De Leon props up crushed vegetation while touring Sepulveda Basin’s South Reserve. (Courtesy Grove Pashley)

Yesterday, a friend sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Los Angeles Reimagines its Waterway,” that contained both a snarky East-Coast-centric tone, as well as surface reporting (Notice that the title says “waterway,” not “river” …) But I was struck by two quotes that I think aptly reveal where we are today:

“By year’s end, the Corps and city engineers expect to complete a joint $10 million study that will offer a handful of options for restoring native habitat, likely creating wetlands along the river and potentially removing or reshaping some of the river’s concrete walls. The study examines an 11-mile stretch of the river on the city’s east side, where some resilient plants have survived in a narrow, muddy strip of so-called soft bottom at the center of the channel.”


“Last month, to the surprise of many San Fernando Valley residents, the Corps cleared more than 40 acres of trees and plants near the river northwest of the study area, in the Sepulveda Basin. While not related to the Arbor study, the action set off an outcry among local environmental groups and has raised concerns about the future of the Arbor study.”

According to the article, “State Sen. Kevin de León, one of several local officials who has demanded an explanation from the Corps, said the Sepulveda project “doesn’t bode well” for the future of efforts to revitalize the Los Angeles River’s natural landscape.”

So true.

I’ve spent literally two years and change fly fishing this area that the article refers to as a “narrow, muddy strip of so-called soft bottom at the center of the channel.” If you visit these pages, you’ll find pictures of the carp I and many others have so enjoyed catching. But now I wonder, how can you trust the Corps not to destroy all fishing in the river once work actually begins? The motto of this blog is “waiting for steelhead, fishing for carp,” but I now have to wonder if everything non-native has to be tossed out, and with warm water temperatures the rule, will there be any fish at all left in the river? Reintroducing steelhead, which were found in the river as late as the 1940s, is all but impossible. There is no way to construct a run to allow steelhead to reach the ocean.

And are trout really plausible given the river’s high water temperatures? Maybe, with a lot of habitat engineering, and lots and lots of cash money.

That leaves carp, which already thrive in the river, have been resident for decades and, for the sports fisherman, are a lot more cost efficient to catch than traveling to Belize to snatch a bone fish.

I think it’s a crazy policy that has every plant, fish and game species returned to the halcyon of days before Los Angeles was the city it is now. Pragmatic room must be made at the table for all types of activity on the river, which includes fishing.

Question: Exactly what will we be fishing for in the Los Angeles River in 2016?

For those of you following the important issues of the Corps clear-cutting 40+ plus acres of the Sepulveda Basin to suit its own desires, see the links below that come courtesy of Sepulveda Basin Wildlife.

Damage can be seen on the trunk of this native Oak at the South Reserve. (Courtesy Glenn Bailey)

Damage can be seen on the trunk of this native Oak at the South Reserve. (Courtesy Glenn Bailey)

Click HERE to read the entire Finding of No Significant Impact for the Vegetation Management plan.
Click HERE to read the letter sent to ACOE by the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee.
Click HERE to read the ACOE’s response to the SBWASC letter.
Click HERE to see ACOE’s web page about this issue.
Click HERE to read Daily News article about clear cutting of South Reserve.
Click HERE to read L.A. Times article “Army Corps of Engineers clear-cuts lush habitat in Valley”, HERE to read follow-up article.
Click HERE to view YouTube video about the destruction.
Click HERE and HERE to see Encino Patch articles with additional photos.
Click HERE to read letter from San Fernando Valley Audubon Society about clear cut.
Click HERE to read KCET blog by Carren Jao.
Click HERE to read letter from State Senator Fran Pavley.
Click HERE to read letter from State Senator Luis de Leon.
Click HERE to view video entitled “Wildlife Refuge Meets Army Corps or Engineers” by a concerned citizen.
Click HERE to read an editorial by Charles Miller on the KCET blog.
Click HERE to read story in the LA Weekly.
Click HERE to read Congressman Brad Sherman’s letter to Colonel Toy.
Regional Water Board Investigation – click HERE for Encino Patch article.

Click HERE to find out about the history and wildlife of what used to be the South Reserve.

Click HERE to visit the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society’s web site that has recommendations as to who to send comments, and other links.

See you on the river, Jim Burns