January 14, 2015
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Brown,
You’ve been on my mind now that I know the high-speed rail may tunnel under my childhood home in Kagel Canyon where my mother still lives. I rode the high-speed train in Spain and loved it, so fast, efficient, and comfortable, I wished we had one. A train derailed on the same track a few days later, pretty grim but that’s the risk of travel by any mode of transportation. Ideally the bullet train could create an ecological future where we impact nature less, like the way people park their cars and take the bus through Zion National Park. The result has been the native habitat has come back and been better preserved. I had hoped the train in California would be built along existing travel arteries like the bus routes in national parks.
As it turns out the location of the bullet train in California is a complex set of circumstances in which nature’s demise could accelerate or boundaries set to protect native flora and fauna could be preserved. You probably already know in the LA area the communities along the original route for the bullet train up the 5 and 14 freeways managed to make it politically difficult to go that route. Instead of running along the freeway at the edge of the National Forest as previously planned, the three new proposals tunnel under a large swath of Angeles National Forest. Kagel Canyon and Shadow Hills, the communities impacted by the new proposed routes are not affluent communities and this is unfortunate as they have less financial means to hire the lawyers necessary to fight this greater threat to the ecosystem of Angeles National Forest.
I think of communities at the border of National Forests as gatekeepers of native flora and fauna. They live between people who think of the majority of nature as belonging someplace else and that imagined ‘someplace else’. If you live in one of these communities you might come home to find that a rattlesnake moved in. I was a pre- school latch key kid in Kagel Canyon and during the day I’d visit the creek, look at tadpoles, walk the fire roads finding trap door spiders, lizards, and the occasional tarantula. At night an owl hooted outside my bedroom window, I’d hear the frogs calling for each other, and when the wind blew I listened to the live oaks. In the morning I’d watch hummingbirds sucking nectar from the bottlebrush bush while a black widow hung just on the other side of the glass. I wasn’t allowed to have a pet in the house and locked my cat in the shed at night so coyotes couldn’t eat her. Growing up in a gatekeeper community I understood the ecosystem of Angeles National Forest as integral to my existence.
A stagecoach used to run through Kagel Canyon. One of the earliest residents, Leo Ferns told me that he saw flying squirrels there when he was a kid. He rode a horse to elementary school in San Fernando and regularly packed a gun. One day he and a friend passed through a thicket into a clearing as knights in shining armor rode towards them. They dropped to the ground and pulled out their guns. It turned out that Cecil B. DeMille was working on a film and the two boys caused quite a commotion. DeMille’s ranch was located east of lower Kagel Canyon in Little Tujunga Canyon near the proposed bullet train route alternative. My favorite Leo Ferns story is his experience of walking along a trail with a mountain lion. He was already on the trail when the mountain lion joined him. It walked next to him for a ways at the same pace. Leo eyeballed the lion while looking forward, trying to play it cool, like it was an every day occurrence and not potentially fatal for one of them. Eventually their paths diverged.
It’s hard to track the demise of an ecosystem. The California High Speed Rail Authority is telling people on the edge of Angeles National Forest who may lose their water sources to the bullet train that the state will mitigate this loss. This thinking implies that there will be enough water someplace else to indefinitely supply water to a location where it once ran. I question the feasibility of this if the drought continues. Knowing that fifteen percent of Los Angeles drinking water flows naturally in this section of the Angeles National Forest it seems ecologically unsound to destroy this source and indefinitely haul water back to where it once flowed. This kind of policy-making does not bode well for our ecological future, bullet train or no bullet train.
If animals sense the presence of tunneling or trains running at high speeds under the ground they will run for it long before they find out there isn’t enough water left to live there. When any animal looses its home, there is no guarantee it will find another.
Last year at seventy-three my mother finished remodeling her house after living there forty years in less then ideal conditions. I think about the physicality of what may happen if they blast under her home and if it will be possible to feel the train running below. It is easy for the majority of us not to think about the individual lives that will be impacted by the building of the bullet train. There is a fault line that may be triggered during the tunneling. Kagel Canyon’s water district is not part of the Los Angeles water district and is already susceptible to breakage. Built in the 1930’s it represents 247 houses. There are an additional 50 homes using wells. The train is perceived as a direct threat to the habitat of this community. I see this as paralleling the threat to animals in the forest. Whether she approves of the tunnel or not my mother owns the rights under her land and will be compensated if the tunnel is approved. We have no mitigation system for wildlife other than to protect the lands they live on, hold them in captivity, or freeze their tissue when a species dies off.
What are the protections we can rely on for our National Forests? This question has gnawed at me ever since Los Angeles dumped trash on seven acres of Angeles National Forest in the 70’s and then traded the land for seven acres somewhere else after the fact to make up what is now known as the Lopez Canyon Landfill. The dump was intended to go right up against the border of the forest but they miscalculated. Once the dumping began, the damage was done whether or not it was intentional. These kinds of mistakes give me pause. I no longer trust government agencies to act in the best interest of the National Forest especially when their aims and goals differ from that of conservation.
In October 2014 when President Obama made 350,000 acres (roughly half) of Angeles National Forest a National Monument one of the exclusions from this status was the part of the National Forest where the California High Speed Rail Authority is considering tunneling. Before October 2014 we had one protected land, now there are two lands with two different sets of governing rules that result in half of the forest being given less governmental protection than the other half. The shift in language of one word, created a native habitat hierarchy. Shifting language is one way we let environmental damage occur while speaking as if there is a sound reason for it. One problem is solved while another is created. If tunneling occurs, some region in California will receive the eight to ten million cubic yards of shale and granite, at least some of which have toxic minerals that would be exposed to weathering. The pollution that would be created by hauling this dirt does not speak to a green future.
The quality of the land we inhabit seems to keep getting pushed back for some other need. That’s how denial works. We keeping edging towards a tipping point of environmental degradation after which the chance of wilderness recovering vanishes. I wonder when the moment will be when enough is enough and we stop impacting plants and animals that we already know don’t have enough space to thrive. I hope it will be before they are all confined to zoos and botanical gardens, inbreeding and thereby becoming more fragile. We have seen the long term, irrevocable damage done to the Amazon by clear cutting for farm use. The Amazon also showed us how a local ecological problem has global effects. Increasingly pressure is put on less developed countries to preserve their native habitats rather than altering them for human use. We should not be exempt from preserving our irreplaceable National Forests.
I heard you speak once about the necessity of using our resources wisely. You gave me hope. It was the first time I’d heard a politician talk so thoughtfully about the relationship between gardening, quality of life, and our environment. You knew that kale can easily live a year in a home garden in Los Angeles and that as a dark leafy green vegetable it has lots of vitamin K, keeping people healthy and out of the hospital. Ultimately growing food causes people to understand nature better, appreciate it more, and may help us conserve the land we inhabit.
I’ve enclosed photographs of three California native species, the western pond turtle (emys marmorata), the coast horned lizard (phynosoma blainevillii), and a newborn pronghorn (antilocapra americana). The first two live in Angeles National Forest, the third was photographed in Carrio Plain National Monument. All three are struggling for habitat, food, and water. I hope these images will help inspire you to protect all National Forests in California from the bullet train. It should be a given that any decision thought to be ecologically beneficial, is ecologically built.
3847 Du Ray Place, LA, CA 90008
CC: California High Speed Rail Authority