Environmental Groups Intervene to Protect Giant Sequoia National Monument

FOR RELEASE: February 27, 2001           
CONTACT: Brian Smith,
Earthjustice, 415-627-6700

Timber Industry and Off-Roaders Seek to Overturn Designation

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Lawyers from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources
Defense Council filed court papers today opposing a lawsuit that seeks
to dismantle the newly designated Giant Sequoia National Monument,
created to conserve nearly 330,000 acres of forest ecosystems and the
last unprotected giant sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada. The
coalition includes: NRDC, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and
the Tule River Conservancy.

The intervention comes in response to a lawsuit filed by timber and
off-highway vehicle interests whose damaging uses of the lands now
inside the monument are eliminated or restricted by the designation.
Sadly, the industry groups have been joined by local groups and citizens
who fear the repercussions of the designation, despite having much to
gain from the new monument.  The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate
the monument designation, which President Clinton created under the
Antiquities Act on April 15, 2000.

"This legal assault on the Giant Sequoia National Monument seeks to
erase the protections that the giant sequoia groves need to survive in
the long term, and at the same time subvert the President's ability to
protect our national treasures as monuments," said Earthjustice attorney
Michael Sherwood. "The fate of the monument and the Antiquities Act as a
conservation tool are at stake. We hope to uphold both for the use and
enjoyment of future generations."

The lawsuit, brought by Sierra Forest Products, Sierra Nevada Access
Multiple-Use & Stewardship Coalition, Tulare County, and other groups,
is just one of several legal challenges to the Clinton administration's
national monument designations. Elsewhere, conservationists represented
by Earthjustice lawyers have been forced to intervene to defend the
Grand Canyon-Parashant, Canyons of the Ancients, Cascade-Siskiyou, and
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments from lawsuits seeking to
overturn their designations. Judging from past comments made by
President Bush and other officials of the new administration, the
federal government will do little to defend the new national monuments.

"The obvious antipathy of the Bush administration toward Clinton's
public lands legacy, especially the national monuments, makes it all the
more crucial that conservationists intervene in this lawsuit to defend
the Giant Sequoia Monument designation," said Nathaniel Lawrence of
NRDC, who is co-counsel for the conservation groups. "We can't count on
the new administration to mount a vigorous defense."

The 327,769-acre national monument, in the southern Sierra Nevada,
protects 34 of only 70 remaining groves of giant sequoia. These groves
are the last remnants of a once widespread species that has been a part
of the North American landscape for millions of years. Giant sequoia are
the largest trees on earth, and are among the oldest. Individual trees
can live more than 3,200 years, and preserve in their annual growth
rings a long record of climate change, drought, and fire regimes.

Because the big trees are a dependent part of the larger forest
ecosystem, the monument also includes the wide areas within each grove's
watershed, including an elevation range of 7,000 feet, habitat for
sensitive species like the Pacific fisher and great gray owl, and
multiple Native American archaeological sites.  In achieving this
protection, the monument designation eliminates only the most damaging
former uses of the area.  Though timber harvest will no longer take
place and OHV use will be reduced within its boundaries, the monument
provides for recreation of all kinds, maintains private property rights
and existing special use permits, and will allow for fuels reduction
under a new management plan.

"The fundamental purpose of the monument designation was to provide
protection to the giant sequoia, as well as to the overall ecosystem in
which these trees are found," said Jay Watson, Regional Director of The
Wilderness Society. "The giant sequoia are the sentinel trees of the
Sierra Nevada -- California's Range of Light, and they deserve complete

For all their bulk and longevity, giant sequoia are ecologically
fragile. They grow only on sites with an ample supply of subsurface
water, and their shallow roots leave them vulnerable to toppling when
the surrounding forest is cleared.

"A few years of timber harvest can do damage to a sequoia grove's
watershed and surrounding environment that takes a lifetime to repair,"
said Joe Fontaine, vice-chairman of the Sierra Club's Sequoia Task
Force. "We've known for years that in the long run it's ineffective to
protect individual trees while the forest around them is stripped bare.
Sequoia depend on a healthy forest ecosystem."

Carla Cloer, a founder of the Tule River Conservancy and chair of the
Sequoia Task Force, agreed, "Sequoia ecosystems include the physical
environment and all living organisms found where giant sequoia grow,
from soil and groundwater to bacteria, chickarees, and the big trees
themselves. The monument designation is the first management scheme that
truly recognizes these relationships."

Contacts: Michael Sherwood, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700, Nathaniel
Lawrence, Natural Resources Defense Council, 360-570-9309, Andrew
Wetzler, Natural Resources Defense Council, 323-934-6900, Carla Cloer,
Tule River Conservancy, 559-781-8445, Joe Fontaine, Sierra Club,
661-821-2055, Jay Watson, The Wilderness Society, 415-518-2604

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