The future of our public lands is in our hands

Keith Walklet

On June 8, 1906, the Antiquities Act was passed by Congress and signed into law. This law gave U.S. presidents the authority to take direct action to protect public land for the benefit of future generations.

For more than a century, all but three presidents have used this authority to protect world-renowned natural and scientific wonders like Muir Woods, Pinnacles, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. However, today, the future of America’s national monuments remains uncertain.

In April, President Trump issued an executive order calling for a review of 27 national monument designations, including Giant Sequoia National Monument, which protects about half of the remaining sequoia groves. The giant sequoia, one of California’s state trees, is the largest and among the oldest trees in the world.

This superlative forest, only existing in a narrow band along California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, has survived for millennia through periods of drought, extensive logging, and a changing climate. The species is a natural wonder, able to survive for more than 3,000 years and grow so large that 31 school buses could fit in its trunk.

Ancient redwoods, including the giant sequoia and coast redwood species, store more carbon than any other forests on the planet. With the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, protecting these ancient trees becomes even more relevant to California’s ongoing commitment to address climate change.

What’s left of these globally unique, remarkable sequoia forests exists today because of years of hard-fought protections. Knowing the long history and diversity of the constituents that came together to protect these globally unique forests, we must now prepare to defend the results of their commitment and conviction.

Before the national monument was designated in April 2000, there was significant public input and a scientific review of the area. President Clinton used the Antiquities Act to designate just under 328,000 acres of land already managed by the Forest Service. This was deemed the smallest size necessary to protect the delicate ecosystem and local watershed.

Forests within and surrounding Giant Sequoia National Monument keep clean water flowing downstream to hundreds of small family farms and large agricultural enterprises in California’s Central Valley. The Central Valley generates 8% of all food produced in the nation and contributes substantially to agricultural exports, and the viability of those farms depends directly on the water that comes from our Sierra forests.

Since the monument’s designation, local economic growth continued or improved across all indicators in the surrounding area, according to new economic data from Headwaters Economics. In fact, around Giant Sequoia, per capita income grew by 24% from 2001 to 2015. Such a rise in personal wealth stands out because this increase happened over the toughest economic years in modern memory when wages in other rural areas often declined.

We have until July 10, 2017, to express to the Trump Administration how we value these lands, sharing how their protection makes our communities healthier; how their millions of visitors boost our local economies; how our drinking water finds its source at their feet; how that water sustains our farms; how the heartwood of protected sequoias store thousands of years of carbon pulled from the air; and how the very existence of trees that live for over 3,000 years inspire our love of the planet and pride in our heritage.

On behalf of Save the Redwoods League and all who benefit from these monuments, I urge you to weigh in on this issue. Please share a public comment at MonumentsForAll.org. We have less than a month left to express just how much these places mean to us and why they should remain intact.

NOTE: Sam Hodder is President and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, with more than 20 years of conservation experience across the country. Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has led the effort to protect the coast redwoods and giant sequoias for all to experience and enjoy. The league has protected nearly 200,000 acres of redwood forest and associated land. For more information, visit SaveTheRedwoods.org or sign up for updates at SaveTheRedwoods.org/signup.