In an effort to keep
Sequoia National Forest open and accessible to the public and safe from catastrophic fires, a broad coalition of recreational groups, timber interests, the county of Tulare, Calif., and other stakeholders are challenging in court the creation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which President Clinton established last spring by
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, contends that the president “grossly exceeded” his authority and overrode existing laws in establishing the monument under the
1906 Antiquities Act. The act allows a president to set aside without congressional approval “objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest” as national monuments, “the limits of which … shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Clinton’s April 15 proclamation created a 327,769-acre national monument within the 1.1 million-acre Sequoia National Forest in southern California, putting the area off-limits to commercial logging, mining and off-highway vehicle use and restricting the building and use of roads and trails. Although the proclamation states that the monument was created primarily to protect the giant sequoias, the complaint notes that the groves in which the big trees are found account for less than 6 percent of the total monument area.
|National forests in California.|
It wasn’t that the groves weren’t already protected before Clinton was flown into the forest by helicopter for a pre-Earth Day photo-op and proclamation signing. Ten years earlier, environmentalists, ranchers, timber industry people, property owners and recreationists participated in a lengthy process of public hearings and discussions to forge a Mediated Settlement Agreement in which it was agreed that 20,000 acres would be set aside for the groves with a buffer of about 7,000 acres. President George Bush endorsed the settlement agreement by an executive order in 1992, two years after its completion.
“We’re asking the court to declare the [Clinton] designation invalid on constitutional and statutory grounds and, therefore, for the monument area to revert to the pre-existing [management] framework — which includes the Sequoia National Forest Plan, the 1990 Mediated Settlement Agreement and the prior proclamation of President George Bush in 1992,” said attorney Gary Stevens of Saltman and Stevens, the D.C.-based law firm that is handling the litigation for the plaintiffs.
If the court refuses to set the designation aside, the plaintiffs are requesting a sharp reduction in the size of the monument — “‘to the smallest size compatible with the proper care and management of the objects’ in accordance with the Antiquities Act,” Stevens said, explaining that “proper care and use” would include multiple use and allow flexibility with respect to whatever is needed to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires.
“By any reasonable standards, 327,769 acres is excessive,” he said.
Stevens asserts that the Antiquities Act, which the president invoked to create the monument, is not without limitations.
“It’s our view that the 1976
Natural Forest Management Act, which followed some 70 years after the Antiquities Act, very carefully sets forth what should be done on the national forests and how multiple use should be accomplished in a way that conserves and protects natural resources,” he said.
The Antiquities Act cannot trump the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, Stevens maintains, since all of these came later and cannot be ignored or set aside by proclamation. Moreover, the president has no constitutional power to engage in land-use planning or establish land-use policy without a valid delegation of authority from Congress. Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the authority to regulate and place restrictions on federally owned property.
The lawsuit makes good on a promise made a few days before Clinton’s proclamation and
reported by WorldNetDaily.
“The monument is a done deal,” said Rick Dancing, of the
Sierra-Nevada Access, Multiple-Use and Stewardship Coalition, or SAMS, at that time. “What’s going to happen now is, it’s going to be challenged in every way possible.”
SAMS, a lead plaintiff in the challenge, is a nonprofit umbrella group of over 80 entities: businesses, in-holder and homeowner associations, multiple-use organizations — all kinds of groups and individuals, from people who use bicycles or motorcycles or snowmobiles to get around in the forest to search-and-rescue teams worried that if trails and roads are eliminated or not maintained, they’ll be less able to perform their life-saving functions.
“We are very angry at the president’s action,” said SAMS Chairman Tom Barile. “Clinton has undone the painstaking work of local people, communities and forestry professionals alike,” referring to the massive cooperative effort to draft the Mediated Settlement Agreement that protects the groves themselves.
Each plaintiff brings a particular concern to the table.
For the county of Tulare, loss of jobs and county revenues is high on the list. In July, Sierra Forest Products, one of the plaintiffs, was forced to close one of its two sawmills in the area, laying off over 100 workers because of a drop in the amount of timber available for their operations due to court-ordered cuts in timber sales.
But that’s just part of the story, says County Supervisor Steven Worthley, who serves as spokesperson for the board. Worthley estimates that every job at a sawmill equates to three or four additional jobs in the community.
“When I talk about over 100 people losing their jobs, these are people employed strictly in a sawmill operation,” he said. “That does not include the haulers, the timber cutters, the merchants in the local towns who rely on the timber industry employees to purchase goods and services from them.”
The impact on county revenues is difficult to figure, said Worthley. Ordinarily, 25 percent of the gross revenues generated by the national forest are directed to the county, but with forced decline in timber sales, the dollar amount has been going steadily downhill. Still, he thinks the county can count on at least $1 million a year in revenue, which it would lose if logging and other forest-dependent activities cease altogether.
Those who use the forest for recreation have signed onto the suit, concerned about losing the right to use roads and trails within the forest. Several of the plaintiff groups are either members of or affiliated with the
Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national, nonprofit, recreational organization based in Idaho.
In June, plaintiffs SAMS and the High Desert Multiple-Use Coalition joined the Blue Ribbon Coalition in filing a formal R.S. 2477 rights-of-way assertion for protecting access to over 600 miles of jeep roads and trails that will eventually be closed through the proclamation. The assertion has been incorporated in the lawsuit.
Don Amador, western representative for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, said he hopes the suit, combined with the R.S. 2477 assertion, will make the Clinton-Gore administration sit up and take notice that a number of people are becoming concerned about “top down edicts from the White House.”
Besides the issues of jobs, revenues and accessibility to the forest, the plaintiffs share a common anxiety about fire — particularly in light of the conflagrations that swept across the West this summer. The problem of fuel load buildup in the forest is an integral part of the legal challenge which charges that the restrictions on timber harvesting and road construction undercut the very purpose of the Antiquities Act itself: the protection of objects — in this case, the giant trees.
“The proclamation placed limitations on the flexibility needed to deal with fuel loading,” said Stevens. “It does just the opposite of what the Act intended — it threatens the objects instead of protecting them. The experts are in virtual agreement that what is needed to protect and continue to protect the giant sequoia groves is flexible management. One-size-fits-all is a recipe for disaster. We have seen what happens in areas like the Los Alamos fire, for example.”
Closer to home was this summer’s Manter Fire that burned 74,439 acres of the Sequoia National Forest, nearby Bureau of Land Management land and private property — including homes. Following the day the fire was contained, the Domeland Wilderness and Chimney Peak Wilderness roads and trails damaged by the fire were closed until further notice. Recreationists fear they will be allowed to fall into permanent disrepair and never reopened.
While the plaintiffs hope to have the monument designation reversed or the area at least much-reduced in size, environmentalists view the acreage as a minimum of what is acceptable for protection of the trees and the watershed on which the trees depend.
“I thought the designation was actually a little small, but I didn’t sue over it,” said Nathaniel Lawrence, senior attorney for the New York-based
Natural Resources Defense Council, a chief proponent of the designation.
“The monument that we proposed, which was larger than what the president designated, would still have left enough land in the Sequoia National Forest as part of the timber base [the land that's available for commercial logging] to continue to supply both of the mills,” he said.
In Lawrence’s view: “There’s no question that the giant sequoias exist in and survive in a larger forest along with a suite of wildlife species. Both that larger forest and the wildlife species that inhabit it overextend beyond the monument area. The monument area was drawn along hydrological lines. It goes up to the ridge crests. It’s defined by watersheds that drain down to the groves. The idea that you could appropriately preserve these groves by drawing a line a few hundred feet around them and doing whatever you want outside it is palpable nonsense.”
The plaintiffs counter that the government has not made the case for additional watershed protection needed for the groves and that a lot of protections are already in place.
“Bear in mind that the watersheds we’re talking about are already protected under the National Forest Management Act, through the Forest Plan, through the Mediated Settlement Agreement and through the Bush proclamation,” said Stevens.
And Worthley added that the actual boundaries of monument bear no correlation to the watershed but include most of the forest, except for what is already in three large designated wilderness areas.
“The boundaries of the monument are tied to wilderness areas and not to watersheds,” he said. “That leaves only a small portion of the forest in the southern part that’s outside the monument.”
Named as defendants in the suit were Clinton, the
of Agriculture and its agency the
Service, and several individual officials, including Michael Dombeck, Forest Service chief, and Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman.
Matt Mathes, spokesperson for the Forest Service, said that until the agency’s attorneys had studied the suit he could not comment upon it, nor could any of the named officials. The White House, too, declined to comment.
Clinton has created nearly a dozen monuments by proclamation, including the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase and Escalante National Monument in Utah — and several others have been recommended by environmental groups for designation between the election and when he leaves office, like the 1 million acres for the
Siskiyou Wild Rivers
National Monument in southern Oregon.
“President Clinton’s action at Sequoia should serve as a wake-up call for all Americans who live, work or play in or around the national forests,” said Worthley.