My family has lived in Kern County since the 1850s, so I know how important our forests and other public lands have been to our region’s development, including providing lumber for building homes, clean water for farms and communities and recreational opportunities.

That’s why I have major concerns about the draft management plan the Forest Service just released for the Sequoia National Forest. The plan does little to protect our most wild places, and as a result, would be a great disservice to our region.

The plan will determine which rugged, undeveloped places on the Sequoia National Forest will be preserved as wilderness, and which streams will be protected as wild and scenic rivers. This is critically important, because safeguarding roadless areas and free flowing rivers secures clean water for cities and farms. It improves locals’ outdoor recreation experience and bolsters the outdoor recreation industry that drives our regional economy.

There’s too much at risk, when in fact we have a real opportunity to get it right here. I encourage folks to join me in speaking up on the future of our national forests, and take the rare chance to participate in a process that will directly impact their lives.

The misguided plan, as it stands, would preserve less than 1 percent of eligible roadless areas in our region as wilderness. The recommended 4,906 acre addition to the Monarch Wilderness east of Hume Lake represents less than 1 percent of the forest’s roadless areas (535,554 acres in total). The plan also contains an alarming recommendation to double the amount of logging on the forest. This would harm the health of our local watershed and diminish opportunities for residents to participate in the activities they love.

One bright spot in the draft Sequoia National Forest plan is the Forest Service’s identification of several tributaries to the North Fork Kern Wild and Scenic River, including Bull Run Creek, Salmon Creek, Dry Meadow Creek and Freeman Creek, as eligible wild and scenic rivers. This will protect the North Fork’s water quality and recreation opportunities, as well as support restoration of the river’s native trout. I’m particularly pleased the Forest Service recognizes Salmon Creek’s outstanding values since I first hiked and fished this stream in the 1950s. 

Opportunities to raft, camp, fish, hike and hunt on the Sequoia National Forest bring thousands of people to our region every year, creating thousands of jobs annually in the tourism and outdoor recreation industries. Residents of our region spend $1.57 billion annually on outdoor recreation. Protecting wilderness and wild and scenic rivers will double down on recreational opportunities that draw visitors from around the world, tourists who spend their money at our businesses and provide important sales tax revenues to local governments. 

Except for its wild and scenic river inventory, the draft as written falls far short of its potential. If done right, this plan would keep our water clean and economy booming and safeguard communities from fire danger. But we can't rely on any of those things without protecting our wilderness and wild and scenic rivers.

I encourage residents to review the draft plans and submit comments to the Forest Service online. Folks can also make their voice heard in person by attending upcoming workshops in Bakersfield and Clovis.

This plan has the opportunity to do good things for our communities. I hope folks will join me in speaking up — we simply can’t accept a lackluster version of a plan that will have an impact on our region for generations to come.

Joe Fontaine, of Bear Valley Springs, is the former national president of the Sierra Club.