President Clinton Proclaims Giant Sequoia National Monument

by Harold Wood

Excrpted from Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter, The Roadrunner May, 2000, Volume 48 Number 5.


"These lands will continue to be managed by the Forest Service, as it once again embraces the conservation ethic that inspired its creation 95 years ago. More and more Americans are discovering our national forests, with places to hike, camp, ride horses, enjoy a few hours of quiet contemplation. Years from now, Americans will come here to do all these things, and these majestic trees will continue, as John Muir said, to 'preach God's forestry fresh from heaven.'"

With these words, President Clinton gave short shrift to the critics opposing his desire to protect these trees who so ridiculously believe that somehow public access will be reduced.

Many local members of the Sierra Club's Sequoia Task Force and the Kern-Kaweah Chapter attended this event by special invitation of the White House.

We Monument advocates were honored to meet the President, unlike all the local politicians of Tulare and Kern County who have so witlessly opposed the national monument designation.

We were all bused up to the Trail of 100 Giants from Porterville in less-than-new Forest Service firefighter crew buses. About 150 people, attended the event, probably half of them from the press, and many Forest Service employees, with perhaps 40 environmentalists.

The Secret Service searched all of us electronically and examined our backpacks carefully. We then entered the Trail of 100 Giants area, where we were seated by a small podium constructed on the trail itself, immediately before a magnificently huge Giant Sequoia.

We waited for the President and his party to arrive. Chapter activists Harold and Janet Wood, Bugs Fontaine, and Ara Marderosian were seated in the second row. Other Sequoia Task Force members Mary Moy, Rich Kangas, John and Marcia Rasmussen were in the third row, along with a group of students from Burton School in Porterville, all of whom were very excited to be meeting the President and see history being made.

Some of the press corps were walking with the President through the Trail of 100 Giants, but the President was led by Forest Supervisor Art Gaffrey and Springville Eagle Scout Alexander Reed-Krase not only on the trail, but on a side-trail directly through a massive Giant Sequoia which had a large cavity. The impression to the audience was of a Boy Scout and the President literally emerging like magic from within a Giant Sequoia to approach the audience! The crowd hushed as the President and his party came onto the podium, where the President smiled and mildly said, "Hello everybody."

There were four speakers: Sequoia Forest Supervisor Art Gaffrey; Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman; Marta Brown, the widow of late Congressman George Brown who had championed the cause of the Giant Sequoias in Congress for many years, Springville Eagle Scout Alexander Reed-Krase, and President Clinton. All the speakers introducing the President expressed their support for the National Monument.

The President gave an evocative description of the Giant Sequoia trees and their longevity. He also stressed that not only the Big Trees themselves, but the entire forest ecosystem was deserving of protection. He said, "We're looking forward to the first Earth Day of the 21st century, and I think the best way to celebrate it is to designate the Trail of 100 Giants, more than 30 nearby sequoia groves, and the magnificent forest that surrounds them, the Giant Sequoia National Monument." At this point there was firm applause and cheers from the audience, and your author was heard crying, in the famous words of Sequoia Task Force Chair Carla Cloer, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

President Clinton wrapped up his remarks on the Giant Sequoias with these comments: "I know there have been strong and sometimes conflicting views about the best way to manage these federal lands. Secretary Glickman recommended that they be protected after careful analysis and consultation with the residents of the area, state, tribal and local officials and members of Congress. The Forest Service will work with the local community closely to develop a long-term plan. We want to ensure that all of the interests are respected and that we help to bring jobs and opportunity to the area.

"This is not about locking lands up; it is about freeing them up for all Americans for all time. We're here because we recognize that these trees, though they live to be very old and grow very large, like life itself, are still fragile. The roots are surprisingly shallow and the greatest threat to the trees' life is any disturbance to the tenuous balance between the tree and the ground that anchors it."

The President then went on to describe some of the progress that has been made in the last 30 years in environmental protection, protecting air quality, drinking water, and cleaning up toxic waste sites. Detailing another environmental proposal of the Administration: the Lands Legacy Initiative to protect green spaces, from the most remote mountains to the nearest city park he said, "This year, I've asked Congress to provide $1.4 billion to protect those special places, including nearby Dillonwood Grove, the last privately held grove of giant sequoias."

He also spoke about other environmental initiatives, including preserving tropical forests and biodversity, and addressing "the greatest environmental challenge of the new century, climate change and global warming."

The President concluded his remarks by giving special recognition to one city within the Kern-Kaweah Chapter, which is now the headquarters of the Club's Mineral King Group: "Now, before I sign a proclamation, let me just remind you that for over a hundred years, beginning with the residents of Visalia, California, Americans have sought to save these giant sequoias. Earth Day brought groups of Americans together on a crusade to save the treasures of our planet.

"Today, let's remember, even here on the Trail of 100 Giants, the global village presses even closer upon us. We have to look within our communities and beyond our borders for allies to deal with our common environmental challenges. We're doing our part today to make sure that the monarchs survive after we're long gone, rooted strong in the web of nature that sustains us all."

With that, the President moved to a small table, and using a set of pens which he afterwards gave to the other speakers, he signed the Proclamation establishing the Giant Sequoia National Monument. You can read the full text of the Proclamation itself, setting forth the rules of management for the new Natonal Monument, which runs 6 pages, at the White House website at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/.

Signficantly, the President pointed out in the Proclamation that the Giant Sequoias themselves were only one part of the life to be protected by the new National Monument, specifically mentioning wildlife such as the fisher and other old-growth forest dependent species: "The area's elevation climbs from about 2,500 to 9,700 feet over a distance of only a few miles, capturing an extraordinary number of habitats within a relatively small area. This spectrum of ecosystems is home to a diverse array of plants and animals, many of which are rare or endemic to the southern Sierra Nevada. The monument embraces limestone caverns and holds unique paleontological resources documenting tens of thousands of years of ecosystem change. The monument also has many archaeological sites recording Native American occupation and adaptations to this complex landscape, and historic remnants of early Euro-American settlement as well as the commercial exploitation of the giant sequoias. The monument provides exemplary opportunities for biologists, geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, and historians to study these objects."

The President outlined these core operating principles for the National Monument: "The establishment of this monument is subject to valid existing rights. Timber sales under contract as of the date of the proclamation and timber sales with a decision notice signed after January 1, 1999, but prior to December 31, 1999, may be completed consistent with the terms of the decision notice and contract. No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production, and no part of the monument shall be used in a calculation or provision of a sustained yield of timber from the Sequoia National Forest. Removal of trees, except for personal use fuel wood, from within the monument area may take place only if clearly needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety."

Off road vehicle use on trails is to end by December 31, and are to stay on designated roads after that date.

The Proclamation requires a scientific advisory panel to be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture with the assistance of the National Academy of Sciences, and requires the Forest Service to develop a new management plan within three years.

The Sierra Club and other environmental experts will study these provisions carefully and will work to ensure that the new Monument will provide full protection for the forest ecosystem.(Look for a future article in this publication!)

Following the President's remarks, and his signing the Proclamation, he came into the audience area and began shaking hands. What a warm, friendly person he is! He seemed to listen to everyone he spoke to, kindly posed for photographs, and seemed to really enjoy meeting us all. When the President came down the line to Sierra Club Sequoia Task Force Chair Carla Cloer, she had tears in her eyes as she told him he had fulfilled a decades-old dream of hers. Some of us nearby told the President who she was, and seeing her teary eyes, he exclaimed, "Oooooh!" and gave her a big hug!

Task Force member Joe Fontaine told the President that he had been working for nearly 40 years for something like this, and thanked him for making it finally happen. Bugs Fontaine asked the President to autograph a copy of Al Gore's book Earth in the Balance, and showed him her button reading "Hillary Rodham Clinton fan club."

Mineral King Group Vice-Chair Mary Moy shook the President's hand, and then gave him a "Sierra Club Eco-Veto" pen with which to veto any anti-Monument bill coming from Congressman Radanovich or any other anti-environmetal bill. Group Chair and Sequoia Task Force member Harold Wood gave the president, as a gift, a copy of the "John Muir Tribute CD," explaining to the President that this CD was a fund-raiser to build a new Education and Visitor Center at the John Muir National Hitoric Site in Martinez, where Muir had written the eloquent words that President Clinton had quoted in his speech. Harold thought that since President Clinton had given the world such a tribute to John Muir by establishing this Monument, he should know about the John Muir Tribute CD. President Clinton accepted the gift and said, "Thank you," while a White House staffer took Harold's card.

Mineral King Group Conservation Chair Neil Fernbaugh asked the President to come back and go hiking with us sometime, and he said he'd love to. Nearly everyone got to shake the President's hand, and thank him for this significant action to protect our Giant Sequoia forest and associated ecosystems.

It was a long bus ride home - with two of the buses failing due to mechanical problems. But NRDC lead attorney for Forest issues, Neil Lawrence, who has been so instrumental in the Monument designation and is a former mechanic, lept to the rescue and repaired one bus! President Clinton was very gracious and really took time to speak to people as he walked along the crowd. It was quite an moving experience. We really applauded his speech which touched on many environmental issues we care about. Certainly a day we will not forget!

- Harold Wood Chair Mineral King Group Member, Sequoia Task Force