Some estimate that close to three-quarters of all giant Sequoia trees in the world are located in the Giant Sequoia National Monument that stretches into Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties.
The goal of protecting that 328,000-acre national monument, the trees and the ecosystem that allows them to thrive was on the minds of about 100 people who rallied at Yokuts Park on a very warm afternoon Tuesday.
"If they decide to reduce the size of that monument — or eliminate it — they're going to be in court," said Joe Fontaine, a Bakersfield native who has been advocating for the protection of the giant Sequoias since the 1960s.
Fontaine, the former president of the national Sierra Club's board of directors — he's now working with the organization's Sequoia Task Force — was one of several speakers at Tuesday's event. He said he is concerned that future action by President Donald Trump could jeopardize the monument.
Five national monuments in California, including the Giant Sequoia, are on a list of 27 being reviewed by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is expected to have a report ready for the president by Thursday. Zinke could recommend any or all monuments be left alone, or that some or all should be reduced in size or eliminated altogether.
Ordered by Trump in April to determine whether the protections the monuments are afforded prevent too much potential commercial use, Zinke's report could be far-reaching — or modest.
Since the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, there have been 129 national monuments designated by presidents of both parties. According to Fontaine none has ever been eliminated, although presidents on rare occasions have tried to reduce the size of a monument.
Art Rodriguez said Trump's review of all monuments created since 1997 is unprecedented. And dangerous. The advocacy coordinator for Wild Places, a nonprofit that encourages young people to gain a reverence for nature, Rodriguez noted that even a conservative slate of Kern County supervisors in June decided against voting to support the Executive Order to review the monuments.
Supervisors, The Californian reported, said it wasn' t their place to act on the question of whether the monument should be left alone or shrunk, despite passionate arguments from ranchers and multi-use groups who advocated for opening public lands for better forest and fire management and recreation.
With dead trees and years worth of accumulated fuels clogging the forest, they argued, fires burn hotter, bigger and more dangerously.
But Harry Love, who was volunteering at the Kern Audubon Society's booth at Tuesday's event, said the there's nothing in the Giant Sequoia National Monument's forest management plan that prevents removal of trees that are deemed hazards or a fire danger.
"They want to reduce the size of the monument to make the monument safer?" he asked. "We're safe now."
The problem with forest management, he said, is not that the rules prevent fire hazards from being reduced, it's that the budgets for such Forest Service activities have been squeezed ever tighter.
The magnificent trees and the wildlife and ecosystem that surrounds them don't cut into commericial exploitation, they draw significant outside dollars through tourism, thereby supporting local businesses and creating jobs, Love said.
These rare old-growth forests are worth protecting, he and others argued. Because once they're gone they're gone for good.