I recently wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to oppose any revisions to the designation of Giant Sequoia National Monument. In April, President Donald Trump issued an arbitrary executive order to review 27 of our nation’s national monuments, including Giant Sequoia. The Department of Interior just concluded a public comment period for an ongoing review of national monuments. I wanted to ensure my voice was heard, as did more than 2.7 million people who commented.
I explained in my letter that revising monument designations will do little to protect tree species or improve fire safety. This is particularly true for the Giant Sequoia National Monument. I am a retired professional wildlife biologist with 30 years of US Forest Service experience in forestry, wildlife, and fire management. I worked on some of the largest timber forests in the world in Washington state, Montana, the entire Southeastern region, and the Peruvian Amazon. I am far more qualified than President Trump and Secretary Zinke to evaluate how best to reduce fire risks and protect the Sequoia population.
The notion that reducing the monument’s acreage would better protect the Giant Sequoia groves and reduce fire risks is misguided. If the federal government is interested in fire safety, it should look to employing active forest management to do so. The solution should be non-commercial thinning of trees from below followed by controlled burning.
Such activities are permitted under the Antiquities Act, and are an effective, protective, science-based management strategy. These actions would help preserve the groves and surrounding communities, while improving forest health and promoting ecosystem restoration. The risk of severe fires is reduced significantly by understory thinning followed by controlled burning under an appropriate prescription. The harvest of overstory green trees does little to reduce fire risk, and the value of living trees to wildlife is at a premium now due to significant reductions in their distribution and numbers caused by drought and insect kill.
There are funding options worth exploring that will provide the needed support for appropriate management. Just two of these funding methods include:
(1) employment of the Good Neighbor Authority under the Farm Bill, which uses USFS funding to employ state personnel (e.g., Cal-Fire) to get priority fire safety projects accomplished;
(2) requesting National USFS funding and fire abatement targets under the National Fire Plan.
The bottom line is that there are myriad methods of reducing fire risk in the area, and none of those methods need to include altering the monument
In addition to minimal effect on safety, revision of the monument will threaten the Sequoia groves within it. The Antiquities Act directs designation of the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected. Since Sequoias require water that comes from a large area, experts on Giant Sequoias determined that the “smallest area” included the entire discrete watersheds that surround the groves. Ensuring sufficient soil moisture is the most critical requirement for ensuring the proper care and management of the Giant Sequoias for future generations. Protecting precious lands for future generations also just happens to be the overarching goal of the Antiquities Act.
Now that the deadline for public comments has past, Secretary Zinke will continue to review the monuments and send his recommendations by Aug. 24 to President Trump on whether to reduce or rescind monument designations. We need to continue to make our voices heard throughout this process. The California State Legislature recently passed a bi-partisan resolution (Assembly Joint Resolution 15) demonstrating the commitment of state leaders to protecting California's national monuments. This sends a strong message to the federal government that we do not want any changes to our monuments. But we must keep fighting.
Send a tweet to Secretary Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) and Congressman Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) to tell them that you support public lands and oppose any revisions to Giant Sequoia National Monument or to any of our national monuments.
Ernesto Garcia is a retired United States Forest Service biologist.