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Recommendations may permit non-commercial logging environmentalists say can amount to clearcutting

WASHINGTON (April 7, 2000) - A proposal today by the Department of Agriculture to designate a giant sequoia national monument that still permits logging was greeted by sharp criticism by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The environmental group has championed the creation of a monument to protect the giant sequoia trees.

NRDC said the proposal would permit an advisory committee to allow a kind of non-commercial logging that the Forest Service uses under the guise of so-called forest health, but which, in practice, has ravaged the fragile surrounding ecosystem on which the giant sequoia groves depend for survival.

"The kind of forest health logging that's been done in the past is actually a mechanical thinning process that shears whole swaths of forest land," said NRDC attorney Andrew Wetzler. "Mechanical thinning is commercial logging in everything but name. The trees are cut and sold by the timber industry. All the Forest Service has done is to open the door for the timber industry to drive its trucks through. There are more appropriate ways to manage for forest health, as the National Park Service has proven in its management of giant sequoias. The Forest Service has a very poor record and we want better restrictions in the proposal."

The monument proposal also would allow commercial logging to continue in the national monument for another two and one-half years, grandfathering all timber sales that have a signed decision notice prior to January 1, 2000.

"Now that the secretary has recognized that 'logging or nearby development can profoundly affect water quality in the groves and threaten the long-term survival' of the sequoias, we are at a loss to understand why he would allow logging to continue unabated for another two and one-half years. The sequoias deserve to be protected now," Wetzler said.

The proposal recommends setting aside 355,000 acres of land for the national monument. The monument would be open for public access and recreation, including permits for summer camps in the area. Grazing also would be allowed to continue.

"Our biggest fear is that President Clinton as well as the American public will be lulled into believing that the advisory committee will be cautious about future logging. The truth is that it will be business as usual," said Wetzler. "We are concerned that this may end up being a hollow monument proposal, and not the legacy that the president wants to leave behind."

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron gigantea) are coniferous trees, the largest of which exceed 30 feet in trunk diameter and reach higher than the Statue of Liberty, base pedestal and all. The oldest specimens have stood for more than 3,000 years. They are widely considered the largest of all living things on Earth and are closely related to the redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), which are the world's tallest trees.

Millions of years ago, members of the sequoia family grew across North America. Today the giant sequoia's range is confined to a narrow strip on the western slope of the central and southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. They survive in some 75 groves. About a third of these groves lie within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks, but half - 38 - are in the adjoining Sequoia National Forest. Others are scattered in state lands, other federally managed land, and Indian reservation and private land.

Not only are giant sequoias rare and majestic, but their old-growth ecosystem supports many rare wildlife species. Historically, the giant sequoia belt was California condor country. In fact, the last condor captured in the wild was found nesting in a sequoia. The region also is home to California spotted owls, wolverines and Pacific fishers, all potential nominees for the threatened- or endangered-species lists. The American marten, northern goshawk, mountain lion, mountain yellow-legged frog, Kern River rainbow trout, Volcano Creek golden trout and numerous rare plants also frequent or live in the greater sequoia ecosystem.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information is available through NRDC's Web site at www.nrdc.org.

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