Story at a glance
- More intense and frequent wildfires in California spell concern for the state’s iconic Sequoia trees.
- A proposal from a bipartisan group of legislators aims to tackle this challenge head on, while allocating future funding over a period of 10 years.
- However, some environmental groups came out against the act, saying it sets a dangerous precedent.
In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Republican congressmen Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Bruce Westerman (Ark.) and Democrat Scott Peters (Calif.) today introduced the “Save Our Sequoias Act” aimed at expediting reforestation and protection efforts in California’s Sequoia National Forest.
The trio of lawmakers, all California representatives, previously visited the forest to assess recent damage inflicted by wildfires. “Policies and regulations stymie good forest management practices – exacerbated by endless litigation – that make removing dead trees and brush nearly impossible, creating a tinderbox in the Sequoia National Forest,” McCarthy said at the time.
Almost 20 percent of the state’s sequoias have been lost since 2017 because of the fires. In 2021, the KNP and Windy fires burned more than 300 square miles in the trees’ only natural habitat, prompting an allocation of $30 million in grants to rebuild infrastructure and bolster fuel-reduction projects.
The act, which is co-sponsored by 75 others, calls for allotting $325 million over 10 years for projects along with an immediate emergency declaration to begin reforestation efforts.
“Decades of inadequate forest management combined with worsening drought and rising temperatures have created an environment that is killing these trees at an alarming and unprecedented rate,” said Peters during a press conference.
A 2,000-3,000 acre buffer zone will be created to aid in removing hazardous and easily burnt undergrowth to reduce the risk of further widespread wildfires.
The Giant Sequoias Land Coalition will also be codified as a partnership between the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State of California and other experts.
In addition, rehabilitation and restoration projects need only undergo a categorical exclusion review under the bill as opposed to an environmental impact assessment, which could take anywhere from 15 to 24 months.
However, a letter signed by more than 80 environmental groups that incldues the League of Conservation Voters offered strong criticism of the act, claiming it would “weaken existing environmental law to expedite potentially harmful logging projects that undermine the ecological integrity of sequoia groves and do nothing to protect these trees.”
Despite the local focus of the bill specific to Sequoia groves, the bill sets a precedent for further weakening of environmental laws that could have far-reaching repercussions nationwide, said Earthjustice representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley.