We might lose Giant Sequoia National Monument this week
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While Congress is on recess, Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon Court rejects greens’ climate case against federal coal mining MORE is continuing his “review” of national monuments across the country. A thinly veiled step towards selling out some of our country’s best wild places and historic sites, the review threatens not just the national monuments on Zinke’s list, but parks and public lands across the U.S.

The Trump administration has made it clear that dirty fuel development and other extractive industries are the top priority of the Interior Department. At a recent speech before the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Zinke noted he sides more with Gifford Pinchot than environmentalist John Muir. That’s not surprising since Pinchot, a Muir contemporary, favored extracting resources from public lands.

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Thankfully in the tug of war between extraction and preservation, preservation won out in places like Muir’s beloved Sierra Nevada forests. Muir pushed back against the timber industry, which had logged Giant Sequoias almost out of existence. He advocated for protection for the big trees and their forests.

 

Today Giant Sequoias provide a towering reminder of the wonder and power of the natural world, as well as our place in it and role in its protection. Safeguarded by national parks and monuments, these trees now also help drive a thriving outdoor recreation economy. Diners, breweries and hotels have sprung up as visitation has increased with the placement of parks and monuments on the map.

The designation of Giant Sequoia National Monument in particular has hitched the monument to a host of other benefits. The monument is the closest access point to the Sierras the 18 million people who live in greater Los Angeles for example. It also provides a chance for youth from California's Central Valley — an area suffering from the worst air and water pollution in the nation — to experience nature. That access is especially important in an increasingly digital world, confirmed by a growing body of research into the importance of the outdoors for better health and wellness.

The watersheds in the monument support downstream farms in the Central Valley that grow 8 percent of all food produced in the U.S.  And in other far-ranging effects, the monument mitigates climate change. Researchers have discovered that Giant Sequoia and related coast redwood forests store more climate-altering carbon pollution per acre than any other forest type on Earth.

Yet, Giant Sequoia remains on Secretary Zinke’s list for review. As do many other irreplaceable natural and cultural sites that are worth much more preserved than mined, logged, fracked or drilled.

The cultural sites of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah hold history that can never be replaced. Its recognition as a national monument was a promise for the future, and a better way of working with Tribal Nations, as much as an acknowledgement of the past. From Apollo astronaut training sites in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks to the dinosaur fossil “Shangri-la” of Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, the national monuments Zinke is reviewing were all protected for a reason. Over time the reasons to continue safeguarding them have only grown, as these national monuments have become an integral part of local communities, economies, and our national identity.

That Zinke would even consider giving all this away is a nod to the power of the extractive industry’s influence over the Trump administration. Trump’s executive order to review national monument protections designated in the last 30 years was Zinke’s Grand Canyon moment — his chance to stand up for our great outdoors against private interests just as Teddy Roosevelt did when he protected the Grand Canyon.

Later this week Zinke is set to issue his final recommendation for the future of our national monuments. As he does so, I hope he will remember that nobody looks back with regret on the decision to protect the Grand Canyon or to save the Giant Sequoias.

Lena Moffitt is the senior director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign.