Earlier this year I wrote about my friend and longtime giant sequoia activist Joe Fontaine. He remembers the first time he ever saw one of these majestic trees more than 50 years ago:
They were breathtaking -- but soon after came a troubling view.
"I found a clearcut site nearby, and that enraged me," says Joe, now the vice-chair of the Sierra Club’s Sequoia Task Force.
The 328,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument is home to half of all the giant sequoia trees left in the world, serves as vital wildlife habitat, and is a source of enjoyment and recreation for thousands of visitors each year. Despite this fact, however, the monument has not had a management plan in place since it was created.
Joe and many other activists have long worked to protect giant sequoias. More than 350,000 Sierra Club members and supporters submitted comments to the Forest Service supporting strong protections for the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
This week they received some help from the U.S. Forest Service. The agency just released a plan that will guide the future of the Giant Sequoia National Monument and the iconic giant sequoia groves within for decades.
The new plan is an improvement from the draft and from the Bush administration’s policy of logging without limits. It is clear that the Forest Service was listening to Sierra Club volunteers and addressed some of our concerns, including stronger standards for when trees are cut and emphasizing natural processes such as fire in restoring the giant sequoia groves.
The plan includes:
• A recommendation for the creation of a Moses Wilderness Area.
• A prioritizing of natural processes, such as prescribed fire, over logging as a tool for forest management.
• A much-needed protocol for when the Forest Service may fell and remove trees for ecological and safety reasons.
Yet Joe and our hard-working Sequoia Task Force and Sierra Nevada Resilient Habitats campaign still see plenty of room for improvement in the Forest Service plan if we want to really protect the beautiful, ancient trees.
“Unfortunately despite the reason for the creation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, over 100 years of logging and the exclusion of natural processes such as managed fire have damaged this national treasure,” said Joe.
The U.S. Forest Service’s plan appears to fall short of the standards set by the presidential proclamation in 2000, which aimed to restore the giant sequoia groves from decades of logging and fire suppression. It also fails to meet the high standard for ecological restoration used in the adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
If you’ve ever seen a giant sequoia, you know how it feels to stand in silence and gaze up at their tremendous height. The largest of the trees are nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty or an average 26-story building. Found only in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, giant sequoias are some of the largest and oldest living things on Earth. Some of these trees date back 3,500 years, almost as old as Egypt’s pyramids.
“The Giant Sequoia National Monument needs to be restored so future generations can enjoy this incredible area,” said Joe.
The Sierra Club will continue to push the Forest Service to ensure the plan does just that.