By Mackenzie Carmen
tulare county – A letter will soon be sent to the Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, pertaining to the Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM). For years, the debate has raged on over whether the monument should permit logging of dead tress as a way to prevent fires. With this letter, the debate may draw closer to an end.
The proposed letter was voted on after a strenuous debate in public comment at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting. The letter claims that at the time the monument was designated, local officials weren’t invited to public comment, feedback from the community wasn’t received and the Board of Supervisors didn’t have a say in what land would be designated.
At the June 27 meeting, all the board members said they supported protection of the Giant Sequoia groves. But, the board was split on how to best protect the beloved trees. Supervisor Steve Worthley, who used to work in timber management, supported shrinking the monument down to its original size of 90,000 acres, much to the crowds’ dismay who immediately booed him.
Supervisor Mike Ennis, who’s territory includes the Giant Sequoia National Forest, also supported the letter as well as shrinking the size of the monument. District One Supervisor, Kuyler Crocker initially said he didn’t support shrinking the size of the monument, but did support the letter as long as there was additional information about water preservation in the letter.
In the end, the letter was passed in a 3-2 vote. Supervisors Worthley, Ennis and Crocker all supported the letter as well as adding additional wording recommending the shrinking of the monument, providing information on water preservation and asking for additional funding for the forest. Worthley said GSNM will be “more difficult to manage it if it remains a monument.”
Chairperson Pete Vander Poel and Supervisor Amy Schulkin voted against the letter. While both supported the original letter, neither were in favor of shrinking the monument at this time.
After the motion was passed, many in the crowd began to loudly boo. The persistent booing was so loud that Vander Poel requested that the sheriff escort some of the angry members to the exit. The public comment itself had more people who wanted to speak than were able to in the allotted 30 minutes for public comment.
Environmental groups and community members say removing the trees will lead to commercial logging in the area. They also worry that shrinking the monument will leave no buffer between the elements and the Giant Sequoia Groves. However, Supervisors and others say they hope removing the dead trees will reduce fire risk. If the dead trees are removed, there may be less fuel for future fires.
The GSNM does not permit logging, but many trees have died over the past few years following years of drought, diseases and an invasive insect called the bark beetle. These devastating afflictions have led to the death of over eight million trees in the forest. In recent years, fires have led to devastating damage in the monument. In the past two years alone, 20 percent of the GSNM has burned, but thankfully the Giant Sequoia Groves have stayed safe behind the protective barrier of the monument.
“We are living the results of a passive management system. The drought that we’ve had and the insect infestation we’ve had are natural phenomenon, but something that has been left out is human engagement,” said Supervisor Worthley
The Giant Sequoia National Monument was designated after Bill Clinton’s Presidential Proclamation 7295. The area, which was carved out of the Sequoia National Forest, was expanded to nearly 328,000 acres from its previously designated 90,000 acres. The monument’s purpose is to serve as a barrier of fire protection for the Giant Sequoia Groves. Secretary Zinke has been charged by President Trump to review 22 national monuments that were created under the Antiquities Act, including the Giant Sequoias National Monument.
With the letter soon to be amended and shipped off to Washington D.C. it is unclear if anything will change. While Secretary Zinke is currently reviewing monuments, it’s unknown if a letter will sway his opinion either way.