25 years of controversy amid the monarchs

I just got back from a trip to see the cinnamon-colored giants of Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest in the southern Sierra. It was a real treat to explore a giant sequoia grove for the first time, especially when accompanied by members of the Save the Redwoods League research committee and the forest manager.
Giant Sequoia
Research Committee members exam a giant sequoia

Mountain Home is owned by Cal Fire, and its 4,800 acres are surrounded by the Giant Sequoia National Monument(same landscape, different ownership). In addition to many great campgrounds, Mountain Home is unique in that part of its mission is to provide a location for forest research and demonstration.  And research and demonstration are sorely needed for the giant sequoia groves.  Nowhere is this truer than in the 33 groves of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

One of our Councillors told me the story of his trips to see these groves in 1987 ascontroversial logging was underway within the grove boundaries. To put it simply, in the name of reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire, the forest service leased contracts to log everything but the giant sequoias in a number of these groves.  The impact on the groves was catastrophic and the repercussions are with us today.  In the 1990 the League was party to a mediated settlement agreement that halted further logging and established protocols for managing the groves.  And in 2000, in the last days of the Clinton administration the groves were established as part of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  In the 25 years since that logging, the forest has continued to grow, and in many places the groves are now choked with dense stands of young fir and pine. In fact, many of these stands are so dense that there is a significantly increased risk of catastrophic wildfire that threatens the very existence of the groves.

Fire clears out the base of giant sequoia trees
Prescribed fire clears out the base of giant sequoia trees

Everyone agrees this is a problem – the fire hazard is real, but there are contrasting views of how to manage the forest to reduce it. But for 25 years well-meaning individuals have fought about how to address this issue through multiple lawsuits.  The Forest Service is about to release its latest attempt at a management plan that would pave the way toward managing the groves. I would not be surprised if another round of lawsuits ensued.  Unfortunately every year that passes means another year that we have to hold our breath and hope that fires don’t wreak havoc with these irreplaceable groves. While we will never know definitively what the “best” management strategy is, waiting and doing nothing continues to imperil these monarchs.

The League’s focus is simple: ensuring that we bring the best science possible to protecting and managing these groves in the long-term. And that’s where places like Mountain Home come in – we can go into the field and look at the effect that fuel reduction, restoration, or logging within the groves has had and make informed decisions about the future.  We’ll keep you posted over the coming months as the latest chapter in the history of the monument unfolds. In the meantime, get out there and enjoy the sight of these wonderful sequoias that have stood tall for thousands of years.

[originally posted on, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, August 21, 2012]

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