Kern County supervisors will be asked Tuesday to urge the Trump Administration to shrink the size of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The move is already triggering a passionate wave of opposition from environmentalists and forest advocates who dispute the county’s argument that reducing the size of the monument will create a reduced risk of wildfire.
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt is bringing the proposal to supervisors in part because of efforts by Stewards of the Sequoia to push for a reduction in the size of the monument.
Stewards of the Sequoia is an off-highway vehicle trail group that pushes for more public access to public lands. Off-highway use is prohibited in the Sequoia National Monument.
The monument was originally created by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. It was 90,000 acres in size.
The monument was expanded to 328,000 acres in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
Off-highway vehicle use is prohibited in the monument, a small portion of which extends into Kern County.
Oviatt cites fire concerns as the reason for supporting reduction of the monument to the original 90,000 acres.
A draft of a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior, provided by Oviatt in the Board of Supervisors’ agenda packet, claims that fuel loads on the monument have not been appropriately managed and create a serious risk for wildfire that could threaten the communities of Kernville, Wofford Heights and Lake Isabella.
But Sierra Club members are rallying to oppose the proposal headed to supervisors.
Member Harry Love of Bakersfield said he and his wife own a cabin in the Sequoia Crest community in the middle of the national monument.
He’s the president of the group’s fire safe council and says fuel reduction is being done as quickly as possible.
Love said utility companies, the Forest Service and private groups — like his fire safe council — work together to bring as many resources to bear on the problem.
“We have applied for grants to reduce fuel loads in the area,” Love said. “By providing us fire protection we provide protection to the trees.”
He said the fire risk on the forest has nothing to do with whether the monument exists in its current form.
“Monument status has not reduced the ability to do fire protection,” Love said. “It’s subterfuge, to me, to say that reducing the size of the monument will allow more fire load reduction. It’s a budget issue for the entire Forest Service.”
Oviatt said the drought and the bark beetle have killed millions of trees and created a serious risk of catastrophic wildfire.
She said shrinking the monument could reduce a layer of bureaucracy overlaid on the land in question and move the land into the administration of an agency that could better fund fuel load reduction.
An email to Stewards of the Sequoia was not immediately returned.