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April 2000 Planet Main
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  April 2000 Features:
Sequoia Protection At Hand
Club Leader Wins Right to Speak
Livestock Antibiotics Can Threaten Human Health
Big-Biz Promises
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The Planet
Sequoia Protection At Hand

Clinton Plan Could Realize Muir's Vision

by Jenny Coyle

When opportunity knocks, Ed Wayburn opens the door, drags it into the room and makes a case for the environmental objective of the hour, fully expecting to get exactly what he wants.

That's what the Sierra Club's honorary president did in August when President Clinton awarded him the Medal of Freedom for his decades-long efforts to protect wildlands. Wayburn seized the chance to suggest still more places that need protection: Steens Mountain in Oregon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska - and California's giant sequoias, the largest trees on earth.

On Feb. 15, Clinton directed Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to begin the process to create Sequoia National Monument, and asked him to make a recommendation within 60 days.

In his letter, Clinton referenced Wayburn's remarks. The president also wrote, "I want to ensure that these majestic cathedral groves, which John Muir called 'nature's masterpiece,' are protected for future generations to study and enjoy."

"How far-reaching the monument proposal may be will depend in part on the positive support the administration gets from the public," said Joe Fontaine, a member of the Club's Sequoia Task Force. "Off-road vehicle users and industry groups are already mobilizing their members to speak out against the plan. We all need to voice our support for this national monument."

Clinton's announcement came on the heels of his decision in January to designate three new national monuments and expand a fourth. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes U.S. presidents to protect land by executive order - without the need for congressional approval.

Clinton's latest move could protect trees outside the existing Sequoia National Park. Half the remaining sequoias - those in the Sequoia National Forest at the south end of the Sierra Nevada range - have no permanent protection, and U.S. Forest Service policy still permits other tree species surrounding the sequoias to be logged.

"Logging around the sequoia groves can kill the sequoia just as a chainsaw does," Fontaine said. "By conserving the entire 400,000 acres of sequoia habitat as a national monument, President Clinton could finally and truly protect the sequoias."

Protecting the sequoia forest ecosystem has been one of the Club's top goals for nearly a century. Muir wrote about it in "My First Summer in the Sierra" in 1911. And as far back as 1923 the Sierra Club board of directors has urged the Forest Service and National Park Service to enlarge Sequoia National Park.

In the 1980s the Forest Service logged some of the groves and removed everything but the giant old monarch trees, which were left towering over piles of logging slash, bare dirt and ashes. With a lawsuit the Sierra Club stopped the logging in the groves, but the agency still permits logging in the surrounding forests.

"It should be a no-brainer that these forests deserve the best protection we can give them," said Fontaine. He explained that for nearly 10 years, legislation proposed by the Sierra Club to protect the sequoias and their ecosystem has been before Congress. The chief sponsor of the legislation was Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.), who died last summer.

"Now the president has stepped up to finish what Rep. Brown started," said Fontaine.

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