Protecting our public lands to protect our economy

Classic wide-angle view of famous giant sequoia trees, also known as giant redwoods or Sierra redwoods.
Classic wide-angle view of famous giant sequoia trees, also known as giant redwoods or Sierra redwoods. Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’m not a typical California environmentalist. Yet, given the threat to our nearby Sequoias, I need to speak up on this issue and in the interest of our rural economy. The Department of Interior recently conducted a “review” of national monuments, and our own Giant Sequoia National Monument is on the chopping block. In addition, certain members of Congress have introduced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at stripping national monuments of protections. It seems that the White House and Congress are determined to sellout our public lands.

I’m one of the millions of Americans who will be directly affected by these decisions in Washington, DC. I not only want answers, I demand to be part of the process.

For 20 years, our family has owned a working cattle ranch and special event center that borders the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Nearby Sequoia trees, clean rivers and California’s picturesque colors provide recreation for our guests and add to the attractiveness of our wedding site.

When President Trump ordered his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review Giant Sequoia National Monument, I reflected on everything in jeopardy for our region. I thought about our strong association with the Sequoia landscape, our roots in the natural environment and our booming outdoor economy. It is truly astonishing that Secretary Zinke would put these hotspots of retreat, outdoor recreation and economic activity up-for-grabs, given his history as a Montanan and his self-description as a “lover of public lands.”

I was further disheartened by the recent introduction of Representative Rob Bishop’s “No New Parks” bill. This legislation is without a doubt the most aggressive legislative attack on the Antiquities Act that we have seen. The Antiquities Act is the landmark law that protected Muir Woods in 1908, and Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2000.

Bishop’s legislation will undermine the conservation legacy of 16 presidents - both Republican and Democrat - to protect America’s cultural and natural heritage. This bill is a part of a thinly veiled systematic effort by the Trump Administration and Congress to strip these special places of the protections they so deserve.

Since so many in their districts benefit from public lands, I hope that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Congressman Tom McClintock will stand up for us and Giant Sequoia National Monument and not put politics before people. Californians cannot stand for these unprecedented threats to public lands protections. If Majority Leader McCarthy and Congressman McClintock want to stand up for local communities, then they should listen to us and fight to protect Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Personally, I know that revenue generated from weddings on River Ridge Ranch contributes tens of thousands of dollars to Tulare County, which feeds into schools, infrastructure and public services. But don’t take my word for it: one of the grooms at River Ridge calculated that his wedding and the 150 guests spent $150,000 in Tulare County. Add to this the golf course visitors, casino visitors, Springville Inn motorcycle tour guests and outdoors enthusiasts and you begin to understand the complex relationship between small, private business and large-scale public protected lands.

Research by Headwaters Economics confirms the Giant Sequoia region experienced strong economic growth after the designation of the monument. Overall, outdoor recreation in our state generates approximately 691,000 jobs and $92 billion in consumer spending each year.

My family and I benefit from this, as do our friends, neighbors and millions country-wide and I’m speaking out to amplify that. I highly stress the importance of keeping our public lands intact, not reducing them in size or dividing them into unworkable pieces - after all, they belong to all of us.

I have spent 20 years caring deeply for my property, enjoying California’s environment and building a business for my family. I know I am one of many who believe public lands hold a value economically, aesthetically and culturally.

I encourage those of you who support the protection of Giant Sequoia National Monument and public lands throughout the country to Tweet Secretary Zinke (@SecretaryZinke), Representative McCarthy (@GOPLeader), Congressman McClintock (RepMcClintock) and President Trump (@POTUS) to tell them so.

I hope those in Washington tasked with serving the American people will keep the home of Giant Sequoias a place of economic benefit and enjoyment.

NOTE: Gary Adest is the owner of River Ridge Ranch that borders Giant Sequoia National Monument.