Station fire recovery

Poppies cover a ridge along Mt. Lukens Road in May 2010. (Times Community News / March 18, 2013)

With across-the-board federal spending cuts constricting an already tight budget, officials in charge of restoring thousands of acres in the Angeles National Forest left damaged by the 2009 Station fire are turning to nonprofits for help.

Although the U.S. Forest Service hasn’t calculated how sequestration will impact specific regional programs, the agency is facing a 5.2% overall reduction of its budget.

The cuts are expected to result in the temporary closure of approximately 670 campgrounds, trail heads and picnic sites across the country during the upcoming peak season, although where specific closures will occur is still being determined.

In the meantime, Forest Service officials are leaning more on nonprofits to supplement maintenance and recovery efforts.

One nonprofit, the National Forest Foundation, has worked with more than 300 volunteers to help remove invasive species from the Big Tujunga Watershed, the epicenter of the Station fire burn area.

Mike McIntyre, district ranger for the Los Angeles River Ranger District, said that as forest officials have reopened burned forest to the public over the past three years, they’ve discovered that trails and other facilities are lagging behind the natural recovery.

“The trails are the hardest thing to get a handle on, and lately we have opened up areas and have kept trails closed because we haven’t had the resources to fully make the trails safe,” McIntyre said.

Forest Service officials are also partnering with volunteer groups, such as the Student Conservation Assn. and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, to find the manpower necessary to reopen trails.

“We’ve been relying heavily on the volunteers to go out and work on trails they were maintaining before the Station fire, and some have been reopened almost like it was before,” McIntyre said.

Edward Belden, Southern California program director for the National Forest Foundation, said key efforts include replanting oaks and willows, as well as working to reopen trails, campgrounds and visitor centers.

“The issue is how to address the damage that was done with the fires, and make sure we have areas where people can recreate,” Belden said.

This past week, Belden said the foundation was able to raise enough money to have the L.A. Conservation Corps rebuild 20 to 30 miles of trails in the Big Tujunga Watershed area, which should be completed in three to six months.

But there is some work volunteers can’t do, said McIntyre.

“A lot of trails we’re discovering, there’s parts of them we can [have volunteers do maintenance] and then we get to a point where the trails can disappear,” he said.

Rebuilding of those trails requires a full redesign, he added — efforts that are on hold pending more funding.

Due to the challenges facing Angeles National Forest, the National Forest Foundation is working to create a Friends of the Angeles partnership that would connect forest officials, volunteer groups and other stakeholders.

“[Friends of the Angeles] would help bridge that gap that has been ongoing in the area,” Belden said. “It’s more of that local effort to get folks together and find projects in the forest they can put their resources toward.”

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