Giant Sequoia National Monument
15 Months Later
by Carla Cloer
Chair, Sierra Club Sequoia Task Force
The following is the speech Carla Cloer gave as a welcome to the Sierra Club Board of Directors, at their Annual Retreat, presented on July 18, 2001 in Sequoia National Park.
It is a great honor to welcome you to John Muir's Range of Light! . Indeed, I should instead say to you, "Welcome Back." Because this is the place in which we began as an organization and as a nation to appreciate our natural world, to begin to acknowledge that we too depend on a finely tuned myriad of processes. These must be protected, not only for the big trees, but for all life. While Yellowstone was the first National Park, Sequoia National Park was the second, beating the creation of Yosemite by one week.
You are in for a great treat because here in Sequoia National Park you will see the Sierra Nevada forests with its groves of Sequoia much as it was when Muir first marveled at his "King of the Forest." And just down the road is Muir's favorite meadow, Crescent Meadow. When you walk in the forest, look way up and see the dome topped and often lightning struck ancient Sequoias. Many of those trees were in that same place and already 1000 years old at the time Christ was born over 2000 years ago. But this forest isn't only about old trees. You will see the pointy tips of the cone shaped young sequoias which Muir described as "as sensitive to the wind as a squirrel's tail," And you will see, mixed throughout, Muir's "noble" sugar pine, Ponderosa, incense cedar, each a giant of its own species.
And don't forget to look down. You'll see ancient wonders there also. But look down also because here you will best be able to see the difference between Park Management, which is in the Department of interior, and Forest Service Management, which is in the Department of Agriculture.
At your feet, you will notice that there is duff, forest litter, logs and other vegetation in varying stages of decomposition. It's providing habitat and sustenance for a host of living organisms on its way back into the nutrient stream. You may see some charred earth from the fires that are intended to replicate the fire cycles that humans, in their ignorance, had suppressed for several decades. But what you will not see are huge swaths of bulldozed earth, or mounds of irreplaceable soils piled up in waterbars to stop water from sluicing down skid trails --where huge ancient trees have been pulled by tractor to a logging landing. And you won't see acres of planted pine seedlings on hot plowed earth where once grew old growth red fir. And your Park hosts won't tell you that chain saws and bulldozers can fix all forest problems and make a profit in the process.
But, you may be surprised to know that the Park is not prohibited from logging. When we were researching for the recently designated Giant Sequoia National Monument, we tried to find language that would restrict the Forest Service from using logging as its primary management tool. So, we looked to Park restrictions. Amazingly enough, the Park can use any means, including logging, to achieve their goals, but they choose to use logging only in the rarest situations and with the lightest possible hand. They have no agency incentive to keep commodities flowing or to pervert the Park's mission and they are dedicated to not betraying the trust given them by the American people.
In 1901, shortly after the creation of both the Sierra Club and Sequoia National Park, John Muir said in an essay, that, as large as the Sequoia National Park was, it should be larger still and encompass an area from the Kings River to the Kern River and thus encompass the entire range of the sequoia. He said that the groves grew more irrepressibly exuberant as you traveled south of the Park.
But no one took action. The Sequoias left outside the Park boundary, and today we know that those groves encompass more acres than the groves inside Park protection, were eventually placed in the Forest Service with its mandate to produce commodities. The public presumed all Sequoias were safe and little if any logging occurred in those groves for a while. But in the early 1980's, when the inflated logging program on Sequoia National Forest had logged out all the less sensitive lands, the Forest Service either had to cut back their logging program or log on lands previously off-limits such as very steep slopes, protected viewsheds, and Giant Sequoia Groves. They perfected the art of using ecosystem terms to justify logging. Clearcuts supposedly "emulate natural openings caused by crown fires." They logged to prevent fire, logged to emulate both hot and cool fire, to restore after fire, logged to enhance owl habitat, logged to protect owl habitat, logged to provide openings for deer (who had plenty of openings believe me), and logged for firefighter access just in case there ever was a fire. They logged to stimulate Sequoia reproduction, but then artificially replanted pine seedlings in the cleared areas. And, they logged for "grove enhancement" including quote, "improving the views of old growth Sequoias."
We stopped much of this logging, but not until more than 1000 acres, tragically sited in the hearts of 9 groves, had been clearcut, leaving only the largest Sequoias to reign over bare, charred earth. Today, these previously harvested areas are either brush clogged fields or crowded pine plantations... both of which are the most flammable element in the entire forest. And today the Forest Service, still using tree farming vocabulary, says that these logged areas are now "reforested with adequate tree survival and spacing and Sequoia tree regeneration."
You can read more about our 15 year saga in some of the handouts at the back of the room. In a nutshell, we simply did not give up.
To our delight, on April 15, of the year 2000, President Bill Clinton proclaimed that these ancient forests outside the Park, not just the giant sequoia trees and groves, but all the elements of the forest including archaeological sites, one celled protozoa, fungi, furbearers like pine marten and pacific fisher, owls, condors, the entire interrelated range of life, be protected in perpetuity. He created the Giant Sequoia National Monument! What a great day!
But he left the care of the new Monument to the Forest Service, not to the Department of the Interior to which most National Monuments are assigned.
In our initial enthusiasm we thought at least there would be a fresh start. A separate Superintendent who didn"t have a logging bias, a Science Board appointed by the National Academy of Science which the Proclamation said was to "GUIDE" the Forest Service in writing its initial Plan and Transportation Plan
But we had underestimated the Forest Service. No fresh start. Indeed, the same Supervisor of Sequoia National Forest is ALSO the Superintendent of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The same staff that was planning timber sales before the Monument is now dreaming up the Monument Plan. The prestigious Science Team has been taken out of a position of "guidance," and has been relegated to merely commenting on what the Forest Service has already planned. The Forest Service is going to tier the new Monument Plan to all its regular Multiple Use documents, such as the new Sierra Nevada Framework and the obsolete Sequoia Management Plan, saying that these documents govern the Monument unless the Monument Plan specifically overrides them.... what a nightmare of bureaucratic layers for any citizen or judge to unravel.
We were pleased with the Proclamation edict which said commercial timber sales are not allowed and that trees cannot be removed unless clearly needed for protection of the monument resources.
Well, the Forest Service has done some "spinning," and says that the term "commercial timber sales" only refers to sales planned with the objective of producing wood fiber. Their planned sales will not be "commercial" because their objective will be "restoration"; that these sales will sell trees to the timber mill is only a side result.
We had presumed that the only restoration logging projects they were talking about were logging for fuels reduction, which, by the way, often leaves the forest more flammable than pre-project and causes a lot of damage. But no, they've added a new restoration scheme, "Logging to Restores Stand Structure." Sounds very ecological, right? But what it means is, after they chop out the small trees from the groves and burn to reduce fuels, they have another project. They decide what a stand of trees SHOULD look like in terms of where the pine and Sequoia ought to be. "Should be more pine here, fewer pine there, a few cedars here." And how do you move full grown trees? Well they have to log out the big old ones from here and then replant seedlings over there where they think the pine ought to be. Pretty slick, hmmm?
We thought that all the undeveloped lands within the Monument would have equal management under the terms of the Proclamation. But the Forest Service has decided that the Proclamation is primarily about the groves, not the entire forest of which they are a part. They have devised a zoning scheme that is based on their own contrived definition of "grove" and they plan to manage the land outside these small areas more intensively which will isolate the groves one from another. The Park, on the other hand, does not need carefully mapped and posted groves to manage their lands because protection and perpetuation of natural processes cuts across these artificial boundaries and assures that the entire ecosystem will be healthy.
So, we have our hands full. Our goal for the future of this National Monument is that eventually it will have a Management Plan that reflects only those explicit and implicit ideals embodied within the Proclamation, and have a Superintendent as a separate administrator, who is accountable to the Secretary of Agriculture or to the Department of the Interior, not under the local Supervisor.
For me, this is an emotionally charged welcome: Because today you are in the heart of all that the Sierra Club was, and is, and will be: an organization that supports and enables local Activists to protect our nation's wild areas. Take time to enjoy our rich heritage, appreciate our accomplishments, and celebrate the tireless efforts of your Club Activists. Editor George Stewart of Visalia fought to make Sequoia National Park one of the stars in our crown! Once these lands were safe in the Park, Activists moved Into the neighboring Sequoia National Forest . They won the battle to keep the ski metropolis out of Mineral King; They pushed Mineral King from Sequoia National Forest into the Park, Club Activists successfully promoted the Golden Trout, Domeland, and Bright Star Wildernesses, We stopped the Peppermint Ski Resort fiasco from the heart of Slate Mountain and the Wheel Meadow Sequoia Grove, And a year ago, in Sequoia National Forest we succeeded in getting a Giant Sequoia National Monument, and we WILL succeed in seeing the letter and spirit of that Proclamation realized.
I am very lucky. I grew up knowing the southern groves looking much as they were created. Just yesterday, I rode my horse on an ancient trail through the Wheel Meadow Grove, a trail on which I have hiked and ridden for over 50 years. It is in the heart of the new Monument. The draft scoping letter for the National Monument, still open for comment, states that this specific grove is targeted for Forest Service style "restoration."
But today, to my mind, this grove is already perfect. This is a magical ancient place. Cool, shaded but dappled with sunlight. Silence interrupted only by the sound of birds and water. Redbarked towering sequoia contrasting with the bright green of lush ferns and dogwood. Indian Paint Brush growing on the intertwined surface roots of countless ancient Sequoia. You can hear the water moving beneath the surface of the forest and springs erupt here and there from between huge Sequoia roots. This is prime furbearer habitat, true southern Sierra old growth, and there are numerous young sequoia beginning their own sagas. In this grove there is a sequoia called the Wishbone Tree. Tradition says you place your hand on the tree and make a wish as you walk through its trunk. Since I began this forest battle, my wish has remained the same. I would like to suggest that you too, find a special tree during your stay here, and make a similar wish: My wish is: "Ancient tree, live and flourish, thrive in this beautiful natural place. Let this forest go on so that countless future generations can come here to also make their wishes."
Working together will make this wish come true. Have a wonderful stay in this magnificent forest.