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Battle lines drawn over Sequoia monument
A battle is brewing in Congress over Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman's recommendation to President Clinton Friday that 355,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest be designated as a national monument.
As agriculture secretary, Glickman oversees the national forest system. In February, Clinton asked him to review the giant sequoia forest ecosystem and recommend within 60 days whether 38 groves of the ancient trees in the national forest should be protected as a national monument. The groves are scattered throughout the proposed 355,000-acre national monument.
The national forest sequoias have been protected from logging since 1992, but long-term security is not guaranteed. Other trees in the area are not protected.
Half of the remaining sequoias in the world are in Sequoia National Park; the rest are found in Sequoia National Forest. Sequoias are the largest trees in the world, some measuring more than 30 feet wide and standing taller than the Statue of Liberty. Some of the trees are more than 3,000 years old.
National monument status would protect the giant trees, which are unique to the western slope of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. The designation would also safeguard the surrounding watersheds on which the sequoias depend.
"Despite their tremendous size, giant sequoias are vulnerable," said Glickman. "They are very much affected by what happens on the surrounding forest. Logging or nearby development can profoundly affect water quality in the groves and threaten the long-term survival of these rare trees."
Glickman said a careful review of scientific data and other information shows that the sequoia groves warrant permanent protection as a Forest Service national monument. But at least three U.S. congressmen from California say Glickman's appraisal is hasty.
Republican representatives George Radanovich and Bill Thomas, along with Democratic representative Calvin M. Dooley, have proposed legislation to stall the designation. The bill, introduced March 16 as the Giant Sequoia Groves Protection and Management Act of 2000 (H.R. 4021), would require an 18-month National Academy of Sciences study to determine the best scientific method for the long-term protection of the rare groves.
The congressmen argue that putting an end to logging in the national forest would cost hundreds of jobs. They also believe timber operations protect the sequoias by thinning out smaller trees and undergrowth, guarding the sequoias from fire and pest infestation.
Radanovich believes in protection for the giant sequoias but doesn't agree with the president's course of action, his press secretary said. "(Radanovich) thinks it's a presidential abuse of the 1906 Antiquities Act," said George Uribe. "This appears to be one in a series of efforts by the president to create a monument or lock up the land. It's fair to say this is political posturing. It's not fair to say the issue has been thoroughly reviewed."
Radanovich's bill has passed committee and is ready for a vote in the House of Representatives. But Clinton could sign an executive order at any time to designate the monument and the bill would be moot, said Uribe.
Other congressional representatives oppose H.R. 4021. Rep. George Miller (D-California) has introduced legislation to provide permanent protection for the Sequoia forests using the Sequoia National Park management practices. Rep. Sam Farr (D-California) led 16 of his California colleagues in writing a letter supporting President Clinton's intention to create Sequoia National Monument, citing its value for recreation, clean drinking water and tree conservation. In California, 65 state legislators have signed a similar letter.
California residents who support the monument recently sent 600,000 postcards to Congress and President Clinton, urging them to protect the sequoias.
Glickman outlined guidelines in designating and managing the proposed monument:
Glickman also said he would direct the Forest Service to increase and enhance educational opportunities within the monument.
The agriculture secretary based his recommendation on information gathered by a team of federal officials. The group conducted an extensive review of available scientific information, historical texts and environmental documentation prepared for previous federal actions within the area.
The team also gathered public comment from two public meetings held in Visalia and Fresno, California, and consulted with state of California officials, members of the California congressional delegation, local governments and the Tule River Tribal Council.
"Ancestors of the giant sequoias once grew as far east as Colorado and Wyoming. Now these precious trees are only found on the west slope of the Sierra Nevadas," said Glickman. "To ensure the permanent survival of these ancient giants we must provide them with permanent protection."
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