By Barbara Hensleigh

At 5 am one day in April, I head out with my friend Jen to a place I have never been before, though I have lived and hiked in and around L.A. for over 30 years: Bear Divide in the San Gabriel Mountains. After spending the night in L.A., migratory birds – thousands of them, coming from two different flight paths – converge here heading north. They fly low to the ground and up over a crest in the mountains and are identified and counted as they fly. Some are caught in stationary nets, banded, and then released by researchers. The birds are bright blue, red, and yellow; some are multi- colored––among them are Lazuli Buntings, Wilson Warbers, Swainson’s Thrush and Western Tanagers. I saw the birds and the amazing team identifying, banding, researching them. They are genuinely impassioned about saving these birds. I even got to release a newly banded bird (pro tip: you don’t throw it up in the air and hope it flies). The Western Tanagers are the feistiest. They squawk and flap their wings in protest of their undignified treatment by humans.

Bear Divide, where these birds fly north, is a special place that’s worth saving and with our help it will be. The Sierra Club is part of a coalition working to expand the San Gabriel National Monument to include Bear Divide. Roberto Morales, Acting Associate Director at the Sierra Club, a number of volunteers, and the Nature for All Coalition are working closely with our elected officials in Washington and Los Angeles. Of the expansion, Morales says: “From access to nature to providing refuge for many sensitive species, the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest have incalculable value to the Greater Los Angeles area. Right now, climate change and proposed development are putting some of these nearby natural places at risk.”  US Representative Judy Chu (28th District) has introduced a bill in Congress to expand the Monument to include Bear Divide as part of an additional 100,000 protected acres. Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. With our support, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just passed a resolution in support of the expansion and Morales is now working with the L.A. City Council on a similar resolution. Building support through our activism and membership is what the Sierra Club is all about, but even if Congress doesn’t act, all is not lost. President Biden can add to the Monument by following President Obama’s lead in 2014, when he used the Antiquities Act to establish it. The proposed expansion also falls under that Act.

The birds of Bear Divide aren’t the only animals that will be protected through the expansion. Nelson’s Bighorn Sheep will gain an additional 14,000 acres for their use. And then there are the bears, mountain lions and more obscure creatures, such as the chestnut snail (found only in the San Gabriels), the California newt (its gills disappear when it becomes terrestrial), and the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog.

What can you do to support the expansion and keep Bear Divide for the birds? Take two minutes to sign this petition today.


Barbara Hensleigh is the volunteer Chair of the Central Regional Group of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club