On Tax Day, 2000, President Bill Clinton gave nature-loving Americans one heck of a dividend: that's the day he used his powers under the Antiquities Act of 1908 to designate 327,769 acres in the Sierra Nevada as Giant Sequoia National Monument.
It may be hard to believe, after a century of protection of groves in places like Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, but before April 15, 2000 more than half the groves of giant sequoias remained vulnerable to logging. Sequoiadendron giganteum is one of the trees most emblematic of California, with many individuals larger than any other species of tree on Earth, capable of reaching more than 250 feet in heights and living for more than 3,000 years. There aren't many giant sequoias in the wild, and wild groves are found only in California.
But until 2000, half of those groves — containing two thirds of the wild giant sequoias in the world — were living in a forest that was officially open to timber companies, who were methodically harvesting many of the forest's trees, including younger giant sequoias.
It's not too surprising that the designation of Giant Sequoia National Monument was quite controversial among local timber companies, as well as the powers that be in timber-dependent Tulare County. Logging in old-growth forests had been a volatile issue throughout Clinton's administration, which was just coming to a close in 2000.
Even then, it was hard to remember that volatility when you entered the surpassing peace of a grove of these massive, ancient trees. And it's even better now that the chainsaws are a little farther away.
As massive as the trees are, giant sequoias have very humble beginnings. They rely on regular fires to allow their tiny seeds to sprout. Their fire-resistant trunks allow mature sequoias to withstand all but the most devastating wildfires. A century of fire suppression has hurt giant sequoia reproduction, but more and more forest managers are starting to understand that fire has a place in the ecosystem.
Tiny giant sequoia cones, less than an inch wide, fall to the ground to disperse even smaller seeds. A mature giant sequoia can hold more than 10,000 of these cones at a time.
Even after designation, during the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Forest Service (which manages the National Monument) attempted to allow logging in Giant Sequoia N.M., implementing a management plan that would have allowed timber companies to cut down trees even in giant sequoia groves, including youthful giant sequoias up to 30 inches wide. Such logging would have had untold environmental consequences, possibly even affecting the area's notable solution caves by silting up the water that flowed through them.
Lawsuits by environmental groups halted that logging, with precedent that will likely be mentioned as the Interior Department conducts its unprecedented review of 27 national monuments as ordered by Donald Trump. In one of those lawsuits, a federal Court of Appeals ruled that Bill Clinton had the legal authority to designated wide stretches of forest as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, a decade-old answer to a claim of federal overreach still made by conservatives.
Which means that these millennia-old trees could use your help again. If the Trump administration succeeds in rescinding Giant Sequoia National Monument, you can bet timber companies will come knocking. Information for commenting on the review process, which is an important right whatever your viewpoint, is below.
But first, a reminder of what's at stake here:
The Department of the Interior is seeking public comment on the benefits any or all of the national monuments being reviewed under orders of the Trump administration. You can submit comments through http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or send them by mail to the following address:
Monument Review, MS-1530
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
The deadline for comments is June 11 for all monuments other than Bears Ears: those comments are due by May 25, the day this photo essay is being published.
Banner: View of the Great Western Divide from Giant Sequoia National Monument | Photo: Steve Boland, some rights reserved.