New Management Plan May Allow Logging, Road Building in Sequoia National Monument

Following over a decade of debate, logging threats, various management proposals, and two successful lawsuits, the United States Forest Service has released yet another version of their management plan for the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  This proposal is apparently gaining no more approval than any of the previous ones, primarily because of its persisting intentions to implement management methods like logging and road building, which some government offices and many environmental agencies find to be destructive and counter to the intentions set forth by the creation of the monument.

The new management plan hopes to implement road building methods to grant more access to the park and logging with the intention of curbing unwanted fires and to relieve crowding that could prevent healthy growth and reproduction of the sequoias.

Who and What Are Involved

The Giant Sequoia National Monument is a 328,000-acre national monument that stands adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest. While the Sequoia National Forest is administered by the United States Park Service, the Giant Sequoia National Monument is administered by the United States Forest Service. This difference in agency jurisdiction has become a source of confusion and controversy in the ongoing debate over how the monument should be managed.

The US Park Service is a division of the Department of Agriculture. Its stated mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Its government website states that it is dedicated “to restore and enhance landscapes” and to “protect and enhance water resources” among other things.

Continuing Controversy

The Giant Sequoia National Monument was created in 2000 by then President Bill Clinton. The document creating the monument specifically addresses two of the proposed management methods: logging of smaller trees around the sequoias and road building. It reads: “No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production”, and “No new roads or trails will be authorized within the monument except to further the purposes of the monument.”

In the decade since its creation in 2000, several drafts of a management plan (which was to be created within three years) have been released, and due to public outcry and government intervention, denied under allegations of insufficient or irresponsible measures, the most objectionable being logging and road building. Last year’s management plan was objected to by 48 members of congress.

The US Forest Service’s newest proposal explicitly states that “[r]oad construction can change how much or at what time water enters or leaves the soils where sequoia trees grow.” Road building decreases surface permeability, inhibiting soil infiltration, which can be particularly threatening to trees with very shallow root systems like the sequoias.  However, most of the proposed plan alternatives call for strategies that would most probably call for construction of new roads. These strategies include increased transportation, construction of scenic routes, and further development of recreational areas.  The article explicitly states that only one of the six management alternatives would not require any new roads.

According to the proposal document, it would still protect the sequoias, but allow “tree cutting and removal” of surrounding trees that may be vital to the ecosystem that supports the sequoias. Environmental groups in opposition to the proposal submit that removal of these trees would encourage erosion while inhibiting vital water retention in the soil. The US Forest Service claims that the removal of these trees would occur “when clearly needed for ecological restoration.”

Past Offenses

Whether or not logging took place within the monument has been a source of debate. While some deny that any logging went on,  many sources, including The Sierra Club, UC Davis, and California Representative Sam Farr (D) claim that not only has logging been going on within the monument, but that the logging may have in fact been commercial logging which is specifically forbidden by former President Clinton’s document creating the monument.  

In 2006, the State of California and the Sierra Club won both of their lawsuits against the United States Forest Service. Part of these lawsuits included the Service’s intentions to allow a 2000-acre commercial logging project to take place in the monument, in response to then President Bush’s attempts to grandfather in the logging contracts, since they were signed before the monument was created.

Current Action

Backed by several environmental groups, California congressman Sam Farr has called on President Obama to transfer the management of the national monument to the US Parks Service, with the idea that the agency would manage it more responsibly.

The Sierra Club is calling on its members to petition Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to withdraw the current plan and draft a new one that explicitly bans logging. Public opinion has been shown to succeed in preventing implementation of previous plans, so if you would like to join the Sierra Club in this action, visit their petition page.

 Photo credit: nps.gov/seki/photosmultimedia/Sequoias.htm

EPA Extends Comment Period on Groundbreaking Oil and Gas Proposal

Last Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a month-long extension to the original 60-day public comment period regarding its proposed changes to national oil and gas drilling standards. This includes what would be the first national standards for fracking.

The proposal, which was released in July of this year, would enforce new rules that would not only seek to improve air quality, but would benefit the oil and gas industry as well. The new rule would add well completion, compressors, pneumatic controllers, and storage vessels to the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which currently only include processing plants.

According to the EPA, these new standards would reduce industry-wide volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 25%, methane emission by 26%, and toxic air pollutants by 30%. By capturing the methane gas that, under current practices escapes into the air, the industry could save almost $30 million a year.

To gauge public opinion on the proposed changes, the EPA held conferences in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Arlington, Texas.  Recordings of these hearings, as well as a detailed outline of the proposal, are available on the agency’s website.

The proposal includes regulation for fracking, an increasingly popular retrieval method that involves forcing thousands of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock. Congress previously barred the EPA from creating fracking regulations, leaving it up to individual states. In some cases, especially on the east coast, this lead to unsafe disposal practices.

Fracking waste water contains not only the toxic chemicals used in the process itself, but can also contain heavy metals and radioactive material that are brought up as the water is removed from the rock. Under some states’ current standards, drilling companies are allowed to pass their waste water through public sewers, which are not always sufficiently equipped. This means that in some instances the waste can end up in streams, killing fish and contaminating drinking water. While the regulations do not explicitly address water contamination, they would provide a national standard for fracking-attributed air pollution, reducing VOC emissions and possibly providing an important premise for future regulations.

The 30-day extension may be contributed to pressure from natural gas and oil producers to extend to comment period, as well as the final ruling date from February 28 to April 3, 2012. If the EPA did indeed extend the comment period for this reason, public support of the regulations may become increasingly important during the next month.

To offer your support of the EPA’s proposed changes to gas and oil retrieval and processing practices, you can submit a comment directly to the EPA or through the Sierra Club.

Photo credit: epa.gov/sciencematters/june2010/images/fracking.jpg