What Coca-Cola’s $900,000 gift says about the future of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
|October 15, 2015 - They served Dasana water in plastic bottles with a tasty lunch on styrofoam plates at the US Forest Service-sponsored celebration of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.|
|San Gabriel Valley Tribune|
|The budget-strapped U.S. Forest Service celebrated the one-year anniversary of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Friday by accepting a $900,000 check from Coca-Cola for trash pickup, ecological restoration and visitor services.|
The beverage company’s anniversary gift — aligned with the traditional “paper” designation for first anniversaries — is part of a new partnership, a marriage if you will, between the federal agencies overseeing U.S. national monuments and corporate America, officials said.
Criticized for mismanaging the heavily used urban forest in Los Angeles’ backyard, and plagued by a budget siphoned away for fighting wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service is parlaying President Barack Obama’s designation one year ago of 346,177 acres of the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest between Santa Clarita and Mount Baldy into a fundraising campaign.
The Forest Service, tasked by the president with improving access to minorities and spiffing up monument campgrounds, picnic areas and visitor centers, put up about $3 million in additional funding last year and hired three forest rangers and a trash truck driver. The Forest Service plans a $3.5 million boost next year, said Jeffrey Vail, Angeles National Forest supervisor.
But private donations in one year surpassed the government addition, reaching $3.7 million, according to Ed Belden, Southern California program associate with the National Forest Foundation, the group spearheading corporate donations.
Environmental groups, politicians and federal agencies working on the monument and the entire Angeles National Forest welcomed Coca-Cola into the fold Friday.
“The Forest Service can use as many partners as they can get,” said Daniel Rossman, senior regional associate with The Wilderness Society and a member of San Gabriel Mountains Forever.
Belden and Rossman see corporate donations, which included $50,000 from camping/outdoor retailer REI, as the only way the Forest Service can capture the resources for transforming the forest and monument from a crowded, trashed landscape into a natural wonderland with interpretive centers, picnic areas and cleaned up campgrounds worthy of the designation “national monument.”
“The future of this monument will not happen on the backs of the Forest Service alone," Rossman said. “It will be through partnerships and community involvement.”
Speaking at the anniversary celebration at a cleaned-up Oaks Picnic Area located five miles east of the turnoff at Highway 39 along East Fork Road, Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola in North America, said the company needs to show the Securities and Exchange Commission that it’s helping restore watersheds.
“What is important for us is water,” he said during his remarks. Karas said his company’s efforts to remove arundo, an invasive plant in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers that sucks up five times as much water than native species, will translate into 490 million liters of “replenishment water.”
Companies such as Coca-Cola add corporate sustainable responsibility elements to their annual filings with the SEC. Alcoa has sent employees to plant trees in Big Tujunga, the effort coordinated by the National Forest Foundation, Belden said.
With Coke’s announcement, the foundation is working with the 45-member monument collaborative group and the Forest Service to determine how future dollars will be spent. The foundation already spent $150,000 on the Oaks Picnic Area, Belden said, including new bathrooms and stepped trails leading to the river.
Up next will be improvements to the Big Pines Visitor Center near the Mountain High ski area, Vail said.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, began focusing on the forest several years ago by introducing a bill establishing a National Recreation Area, similar to the Santa Monica Mountains NRA. However, when the bill stalled, Obama interceded and declared a slice of federal forest land a monument, one of 117 in the country.
When asked if corporate dollars flowing into the monument would translate into corporate influence, Chu said no. Will Coke signs appear at the monument entrance?
“I don’t think they (U.S. Forest Service) will let that happen,” she answered, adding jokingly “No, there will be no Coca-Cola signs on the bighorn sheep.”
Next week, Chu will introduce a new bill that will expand the monument westerly, taking in parts of the Arroyo Seco above Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge as well as popular forest hiking trails in Chantry Flat north of Sierra Madre.
Chu said those areas were omitted from the monument because they contained too many Los Angeles County Department of Public Works properties. Efforts to expand the monument into Cucamonga Canyon, as requested by the Rancho Cucamonga City Council, was not considered in her bill because the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors did not support the addition, Chu said.
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