President Biden expands a National Monument along the PCT

Sunset in the San Gabriel Mountains, mile 411.8. Photo by Dana Geary.

Moving south on the PCT through the Mojave Desert, hikers close in on a massive obstacle: the north slope of the iconic San Gabriel Range. These high mountains above the wild desert also frame the Los Angeles Valley on their southern flank. Winter snowpacks provide drinking water for millions of Los Angelinos, and their lush landscapes are crucial wildlife refuges.

Foreboding and beautiful, the range takes center stage in the 346,177-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, designated by President Barak Obama on Oct. 10, 2014, to help protect its unique landscapes that include striking geologic features, ecological diversity, and rich cultural resources.

Last week, President Biden expanded the monument boundary, adding nearly 106,000 acres on its southwest corner. The move brings an extra layer of protection for the Pacific Crest Trail, which cuts through the monument for 87 miles, much of that along the original southern border, which is now fully encompassed by the expansion. The PCT is called out in the original presidential proclamation as an important recreational resource, but there are hundreds of miles of beloved hiking, motorized, and equestrian trails within the boundaries of the monument.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument expansion. Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, national monuments are “nationally significant lands and waters set aside for permanent protection.” Their designations seek to protect a variety of aspects about a place that are unique and worthy of conservation. They are not buildings or statues, though many monuments contain such structures. Monuments can be managed by a variety of agencies, but they are typically overseen by the National Park Service or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; they are not national parks, national historic areas, or national wildlife refuges. Each monument is managed through its own unique plan drafted with public input covering everything from natural resources, public access, and existing structures to cultural sites, historic uses, and much more.

National Monuments are an important way to protect America’s natural wonders. They are most often designated by the president through the Antiquities Act of 1906. Eighteen presidents have used this authority and have designated 161 national monuments. Congress can also pass a bill designating a national monument, though such legislation is more often used to modify one.

There are five national monuments along the PCT, including the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The others are the Sand to Snow (designated in 2016), the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains (2000), the Cascade-Siskiyou (2000), and the Devils Postpile (1911). The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains was the only one designated by Congress.

The PCT through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Map by Galen Keily, PCTA.

While last week’s expansion was supported by many community voices, including the Pacific Crest Trail Association, it was primarily driven by appeals from Indigenous peoples in the area, including the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno (Tongva) San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.

“Federal, state, and local leaders, Tribal governments, Indigenous communities, and a coalition of community-based and conservation organizations came together to advocate for the additional protections…,” a Biden administration release states. “The sites protected through these expansions will ensure that future generations can experience, learn from, and enjoy these irreplaceable resources.”

According to the original Presidential Proclamation signed by President Obama, “Cultural resources represent successive layers of history, including that of Native Americans, Spanish missionaries and colonialists, Mexican rancheros, and Euro-American settlers and prospectors. Native American history runs deep, at least 8,000 years, exemplified by the Aliso-Arrastre Special Interest Area known for its heritage resource values, including several rock art and cupule features, the concentration of which is unique to southern California.”

The monument provides suitable habitat for 52 plants designated as sensitive by the U.S. Forest Service and as many as 300 California-endemic species, including Pierson’s lupine and San Gabriel bedstraw, that occur only in the San Gabriel range. This habitat is part of a delicate connectivity corridor important for wide-ranging species, such as the mountain lion.

Goldilocks hikes towards Cajon Pass as the San Gabriel Mountains loom above. Photo by Emilie Vachon.

The PCTA supports the designation of monument lands along the trail. We regard national monuments as far-sighted protections for iconic landscapes that hold incalculable value for outdoor recreation, landscape preservation, cultural heritage recognition, and protection of wildlife and clean air and water sources.

We currently are engaged with other community groups and advocates to create a new monument in the Angeles National Forest, just west of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The PCT cuts through the heart of the Angeles National Forest and the proposed Northern Angeles Forest National Monument area. Monument status would help ensure the ongoing protection of the many sustainable recreation opportunities provided by the PCT.

National monuments are a boon for small-town economies. Communities near national monuments see economic growth through tourism, recreation, and improved property values. Across the country, monuments draw hikers, climbers, hunters, anglers, bicyclists, boaters, and equestrians alike.

You can support our advocacy efforts to protect PCT experiences and important natural and cultural resources along the trail. Visit our website to make a donation. Thank you!

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.