LA TIMES COMMENTARY
The Administration Can't See the Forest for the Sequoias
By Chad Hanson
(Chad Hanson is the executive director of the John Muir Project and
is a national director of the Sierra Club)
December 30, 2002
In the spring of 2000, then-President Bill Clinton issued a proclamation
establishing the Giant Sequoia National Monument east of Bakersfield,
ensuring that the giant sequoia groves and their surrounding ecosystems
would be forever protected, or so we thought.
This month, the Bush administration announced its draft management
plan for the 329,000-acre monument, which proposes a commercial logging
program that includes patch clear cuts within the sequoia groves
and large-scale removal of big, green trees. Even century-old giant
sequoias would be logged.
That the Bush administration would target such a revered refuge
for logging raises a serious question: If the Giant Sequoia National
Monument isn't safe under this administration, what is?
Though shocking, the move comes as little surprise, given that the
sequoia monument is still managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which,
in turn, is overseen by a former timber industry lobbyist, Bush appointee
The plan cavalierly ignores the fact that the monument proclamation
was clearly intended to prevent continued logging and designed to
ensure far greater protection than the area previously had as a national
Instead, the Bush administration's proposal turns this goal on its
What's even more disturbing is that the plan claims such logging
of large trees is necessary to prevent severe forest fires.
The federal government's own scientists have consistently found
that removal of large trees increases severe fire risk by removing
the most fire-resistant elements -- big trees -- from the forest
and by reducing the cooling shade of the forest canopy.
The logging of mature trees also increases sun exposure, causing
more rapid growth of highly flammable brush within a few years.
Indeed, the comprehensive Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Report, which
was produced by university and Forest Service scientists, concluded
that "timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure,
local microclimate and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity
more than any other recent human activity."
The report recommended thinning of undergrowth and prescribed burning
as appropriate fire management tools. It strongly opposed the removal
of mature trees.
The Forest Service's own National Fire Plan, which again was developed
by government scientists, warned that the Forest Service "should
not rely on commercial logging or new road building to reduce fire
risks" because the "removal of large, merchantable trees
from forests does not reduce fire risk and may, in fact, increase
The Bush administration doesn't appear to care what the nation's
top scientists -- even the government's own researchers -- are saying.
For this administration, it's all about pleasing big timber industry
campaign contributors, and logging corporations have no interest
The timber industry wants economically valuable big trees, and lots
The Giant Sequoia National Monument was established for the protection
of the sequoia ecosystem and the species it supports, including the
California spotted owl and the mink-like Pacific fisher.
The fisher is nearly extinct in the Sierra, in large part because
of habitat degradation from logging.
Bush's new logging plan may well drive the remaining fisher population
to extinction in the Sierra Nevada range.
This plan to "save" the Giant Sequoia National Monument
by allowing logging corporations to clear-cut within sequoia groves
and remove big trees is more than a little disingenuous.
It is a shameless political move loaded with enough hypocrisy and
cynicism to flatten a forest.