Angeles National Forest gets temporary supervisor – San Bernardino Sun

In an effort to plug the management gap in the Angeles National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service has brought in a temporary forest chief from Arizona with experience supervising federal lands encircling sprawling urban populations.

Tom Torres, 58, was named temporary forest supervisor of the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. He is set to stay until July, when the U.S. Forest Service expects to name a permanent forest supervisor of the Angeles National Forest. (Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

Tom Torres, 58, became acting forest supervisor this month of the 700,000-acre urban forest stretching from Santa Clarita to Upland and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, a 346,177-acre swath of federal land within the forest sprawling from Ventura County to San Bernardino County, providing 70% of the area’s open space and 30% of its drinking water.

Torres is on a short assignment until the service hires a permanent forest supervisor.

The agency is searching for a candidate and hopes to appoint someone in July, said Dana Dierkes, spokesperson for the Angeles National Forest.

Temporary assignments are common in the Forest Service, said John Monsen, co-chair of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s Forest Committee and longtime follower of the Angeles, said Monday, March 21.

“To the extent they use the time to find someone who is really good — that could turn out to be beneficial,” Monsen said. “To the extent they are at loss — it will be bad. In the end, we want somebody to stay for 10 years. Longer than the last three.”

The revolving door of forest supervisors could be related to the fact that the Angeles is the most visited forest in the United States, attracting about 4 million people a year, surrounded by 20 million people who live within an hour’s drive, the most of any national forest in the United States.

The human imprint often results in people not being prepared for hiking the steep, rugged mountains and getting lost or injured. Also, human-caused fires, whether arson, ignition from a smoldering campfire or sparks released into brush from automobiles have caused recent forest fires, along with power lines that crisscross the lands and come up against vegetation. Also, water agencies want protection of the San Gabriel River and three county-run dams that provide drinking water.

The myriad responsibilities of a forest chief include habitat and endangered species protection, visitor experience management, road maintenance, fire suppression and prevention, plus working with dozens of neighboring cities, state and federal representatives and tribal leaders.

Torres is the fourth person to lead the Angeles in the past seven years. Tom Contreras was in charge from 2009 to 2015, Jeffrey Vail from 2015 to 2018 and Jerry Perez from 2018 to February.

Torres said Monday that he’s solidifying partnerships with corporations that provide cash and volunteers, as well as nonprofit groups that supply manpower for trail rebuilding and trash cleanups, often because the agency can’t manage these operations on its own.

The agency is on a hiring spree, using money from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to onboard botanists, archaeologists and workers for wildfire prevention, he said.

“We are filling positions vacant for a number of years and we are adding new positions related to forest health and restoration,” Torres said.

Torres, who was deputy forest supervisor in the Tonto National Forest near Phoenix, has been busy with the Angeles forest’s fire-prevention plan. A prescribed burn in the northeast desert section of the Angeles near Palmdale and Lancaster consumed 70 acres of dead trees and underbrush, but had to be stopped when weather conditions changed.

Torres, who was an engineer for the forest service, has also worked fires in other forests in the western United States. He has been stationed in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and the Mt. Hood, Willamette, Lincoln, San Juan, and Kaibab national forests.

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