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April 10, 2000

Agriculture secretary urges protection for giant sequoias

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Following a request from President Clinton, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman on Friday urged the elimination of commercial logging across 355,000 acres of California forests to protect giant sequoias.

Clinton is expected to act quickly to create Sequoia National Monument to protect the towering trees in the Sierra Nevada, perhaps on Earth Day April 22. Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, Clinton can designate a monument by executive order without congressional approval.

But the move angered congressional Republicans, who contend it was politically inspired, threatening recreation camps and costing precious timber industry jobs in the Sequoia National Forest.

"It's totally political," said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, who represents part of the land involved in the proposal. "The damage will be enormous."

He and two other California lawmakers sponsored a bill that would require an 18-month National Academy of Sciences study about how best to protect the trees up to 3,000 years old and 100 feet around at the base. Critics worry about losing timber industry jobs and recreational access to the forest.

Glickman's recommendation would allow existing recreational groups such as Camp Whittsett Boy Scout Camp and Pyles Boys Camp to continue with special permits. Grazing could also continue.

Commercial logging would be eliminated after a 2.5-year transition period, allowing the previously approved sale of 8 million board feet. A scientific panel including experts from outside the Forest Service will recommend precisely how to manage the forest to better protect the sequoias and their watershed.

Because the Forest Service would continue to manage the trees as a monument, Glickman described the new designation as placing special attention on sequoia trees in particular.

"Despite their tremendous size, giant sequoias are vulnerable," he said. "Logging or nearby development can profoundly affect water quality in the groves and threaten the long-term survival of these rare trees."

Environmental groups welcomed the proposal as a way to permanently protect trees that were logged as recently as the 1960s.

"A national monument could ensure that children centuries from today can crane their necks and gaze with wonder up the towering trunks," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Forest officials might still use mechanical tree removal like logging to manage the forest, in addition to controlled fires. Environmental groups prefer burns as a more natural way to clear underbrush and to provide heat that opens sequoia cones to grow new trees.

"Mechanical thinning is commercial logging in everything but name," said Andrew Wetzler, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The Forest Service has a very poor record and we want better restrictions in the proposal."

Rather than make the proposal stricter, monument critics have organized rallies Saturday morning in Los Angeles, Fresno and Pleasanton.

Thomas argued that previous scientific studies have asked for no more than 150,000 acres to protect the sequoias. But he worried that the monument designation could ultimately restrict access to the forest for recreation camps and grazing.

"I'm concerned about all of the weasely language in all of the other areas that they say they're going to protect," Thomas said.

Clinton asked Glickman two months ago for advice on whether to designate a monument because of concerns about logging, which is allowed in Sequoia National Forest, but not national parks.

The monument proposal would protect 70 groves of the giant trees, about half of which are already protected within Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

Clinton has been designating monuments to create an environmental legacy during the last year of his presidency.

In January, he created a monument of the hundreds of uninhabited islands along the California coast and expanded Pinnacles National Monument south of San Jose. In Arizona, he also created a monument of 1 million acres of cliffs and desert adjacent to the Grand Canyon and extended the protection to 71,000 acres of American Indian ruins north of Phoenix.

Giant sequoias grow only in the Sierra and typically are larger in diameter than related coastal redwoods, which grow along the Pacific from Big Sur to the Oregon border. Coastal redwoods grow taller, but sequoias typically have twice the trunk volume.

The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the world's largest tree by volume, nearly 275 feet high and more than 102 feet around at its base.

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