Our thanks to Lindsey Botts for this story:
Dozens of conservation groups push back against a pending forestry bill
As the Washburn Fire last month threatened to scorch the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, discussions about how to protect the iconic trees heated up. While most people agree that the trees are treasured monuments that need to be preserved, there is considerable disagreement about how best to do that. Conservation groups are now pushing back against proposed federal legislation that, they say, would do more harm than good.
On July 22, the US Forest Service announced plans to start emergency fuel reduction treatments across 13,377 acres in Sequoia National Forest and Sierra National Forest, just south of Yosemite National Park, where the Washburn Fire burned through nearly 5,000 acres in July. As part of the plan, the Forest Service will conduct numerous measures to keep high-intensity fires at bay, including thinning, mechanical removal of trees, and applying a flame retardant to green stumps.
The emergency plan follows last month’s introduction of a bill in Congress that would allocate $325 million over 10 years to similar projects throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Yosemite National Park, and some Bureau of Land Management territories. Introduced in the House at the end of June, the bill currently has 22 Republican and 22 Democrat cosponsors. In addition, environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy and Save the Redwoods have joined industry groups like Associated California Loggers and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions to support the bill.
But dozens of conservation groups—including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biodiversity—warn that the bill overreaches and could set a dangerous precedent by allowing land managers to evade federal laws to fast-track fire abatement measures. The draft legislation waives a raft of federal environmental laws to speed up thinning and fuel reduction efforts. In doing so, environmental groups say, the law removes the guardrails meant to ensure fire-prevention projects are completed in a way that doesn’t threaten the environment.
Carla Cloer, the chair of the Sierra Club Sequoia Task Force, is one of the people worried about the recent plans and the proposed legislation. For her, the idea that humans could do a better job than millions of years of evolution is unthinkable.
“The groves are being restored by the only way possible, which is natural seedlings,” Cloer says. “For humans to think that they’re gonna go in and dig a hole and build a little berm … and stomp all over the natural seedlings coming up … and think they can put in a tree that is better situated than these millions of seedlings, some of which have to be in a perfect place—it’s just hubris.”
The Save Our Sequoias Act
In Yosemite National Park, one thing that has helped keep damage to the Mariposa Grove to a minimum is 50 years of prescribed fires, says park biologist Garrett Dickman. Treatments dating back to 1972 helped firefighters steer the Washburn Fire away from the grove and keep its intensity at lower levels. By the end of July, the fire was nearly 90 percent contained.
Just as fires started to spread across parts of California earlier this summer, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is the minority leader in the House, and Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, introduced their Save Our Sequoias Act. Since then, they’ve ramped up their campaign to gain support for the bill…
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