As a lifelong sportsman and active member of the Kern River Fly Fishers, public lands are very important to me. The exceptional angling opportunities in the southern Sierra are one of the primary reasons why I live in this region.
One of my favorite places to fish is the Kern River, upstream of the Johnsondale Bridge, about 20 miles north of Kernville. Skill and commitment are required for angling success here. If you want to get your rod bent by native Kern River rainbows, you’ll have to hike and do some challenging wading.
This lower reach of the Kern River Canyon is rugged, scenic, wild trout water. It’s also part of Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Many people know by now that in August the Trump administration completed a review of 27 national monuments (six in California) to consider if they should be downsized or eliminated. This idea, and the unprecedented process of carrying it out, are worrisome to those of us who rely on public lands for our hunting and fishing. A number of national monuments, including Giant Sequoia, are great places to fish and hunt. That’s because they contain and protect productive habitat.
The White House and Department of the Interior have been disappointingly secretive about the review’s final recommendations and whether the president will act on them. Giant Sequoia was one of the 27 monuments reviewed by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. While there have been reports that the secretary did not recommend the present size of Giant Sequoia be reduced, that prospect, apparently, remains on the table.
What good is a conservation designation for worthy public lands if it can be radically altered or overturned by a shift in political winds? There is no hunting or fishing without good habitat. We must better protect the quality public lands habitat we have left, or sportsmen and women will be limited to pricey, limited-access private lands for our fishing and hunting.
Extraordinary places such as Giant Sequoia certainly are worthy of national monument status. Any area of federal land that has unique or unusual “objects of historic and scientific interest” qualifies for such designation under the Antiquities Act. The Supreme Court has ruled that such “objects” can be entire landscapes (e.g., the Grand Canyon). Giant Sequoia’s enormous, rare trees, logging history, and remarkable ecological values are clearly of “historic and scientific interest.”
That said, there are legitimate concerns about how Giant Sequoia has been managed. One of these concerns pertains to wildfire. In addition to the catastrophic loss of life and property that big fires can cause, their legacy impacts, including massive runoff of ash and sediments, can devastate trout streams. The 2012 management plan for Giant Sequoia provides good direction on better managing wildfire in the monument, but we need to adequately fund fuel management activities and support community-based initiatives such as fire-safe councils to put that plan into practice. In addition, we should improve existing roads and trails to enhance public access.
We now know that President Trump intends to make an announcement on Dec. 4 in Utah that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments will be dramatically downsized. For anglers and hunters who appreciate the quality and variety of sporting opportunities protected in places like Giant Sequoia National Monument, this news is unwelcome. For more than a century, some of our country’s finest landscapes, historic sites, and fishing and hunting experiences have been protected through national monument designation. We should respect the vision of our predecessors in making sure that such places and opportunities are not chipped away or lost altogether, so that our children, and theirs, can also appreciate them.
President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Zinke like to associate themselves with Theodore Roosevelt, the greatest sportsman-conservationist in American history and the first of our country’s leaders to advance a consistent conservation agenda in the management of public lands. But stripping deserved protections for some of our best remaining hunting and fishing grounds is hardly channeling the old Rough Rider.
The Kern River Fly Fishers join many other sportsmen’s groups across the nation in urging the president to truly honor Roosevelt’s legacy by leaving the current boundaries of Giant Sequoia and other national monuments intact.
Steve Hart is president of the Kern River Fly Fishers. The opinions expressed are his own.