Monday, June 24, 2024

Sheriff asks lawmakers and forest service for help to curb deaths and injuries on Mt. Baldy

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After more than 100 rescues and at least 10 deaths in Mt. Baldy since 2020, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus is asking legislators and the U.S. Forest Service to implement new measures to restrict access to the 10,064-foot peak in the Angeles National Forest in hopes of saving lives.

In January alone, 15 hikers were injured or lost in the mountain, and two hikers were killed, officials said.

Dicus said he has reached out to the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu, whose district includes Mt. Baldy, but said in a statement Wednesday that he was “disappointed” that more hasn’t been done to save lives on Mt. Baldy.

“Despite numerous discussions with USFS, Sheriff Shannon Dicus is disappointed these measures proposed have not been implemented,” the statement read. “Sheriff Dicus hopes with the support of U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu and USFS, whose jurisdiction include Mt. Baldy area of the San Gabriel Mountains, legislation can be enacted to save lives.”

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson from Chu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The treacherous, dangerous but familiar nature of Mt. Baldy, which attracts experienced and unprepared hikers alike with its proximity to Los Angeles, was most recently highlighted with the disappearance of actor Julian Sands in January. Numerous unsuccessful searches were launched until his remains were found in June.

The mountain’s proximity has also given visitors a false sense of security, making the mountain one of the nation’s deadliest peaks, according to experienced climbers.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has spent $3 million in rescue operations on the mountain over the past five years, according to the department, although the region falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service.

“The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department plays a critical role in locating and rescuing lost and injured hikers in the treacherous Mt. Baldy area,” the statement reads.

The searches have also resulted in lost lives, the department notes.

In 2019, a nine-year search and rescue veteran with the department, Tim Staples, was separated during the search for a missing hiker. He was lost, and killed after suffering a fall.

Sheriff’s officials said they’ve been in contact with U.S. Forest Service and have asked for measures, such as implementing a permit process so that law enforcement officials are aware of the number of people in the mountain at any point.

The department has also asked for the U.S. Forest Service to educate the public about hiking, navigation skills, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter before heading up the mountain. The department has also asked for the agency to notify visitors about the lack of cellphone service.

“Despite the efforts made by various local and federal agencies to maintain the safety of hikers, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department believes that more needs to be done by the Forest Service to implement effective measures prioritizing hiker safety,” read a letter from Dicus to Chu’s office, dated Aug. 1.

Currently, congress is in a six-week recess and is set to return on Sept. 12.

According to a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Department, talks with Chu’s office about Mt. Baldy have “stalled,” but the department is still hoping to work with the congresswoman to find a solution.

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