by Lawson Fite, AFRC General Counsel

Hillary killed Vince Foster.  Obama was born in Kenya.  Trump is going to let Big Timber cut down the Sequoias.  Which one is “Fake News”?  The answer is “All of the Above.”

The new Administration’s review of a number of National Monument designations has emotions and rhetoric running high.  Unfortunately, the debate has become unmoored from the facts in some quarters.  One of the monuments under review is the Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM) in California.  A recent Sierra Club fundraising message makes false claims about review of this monument.

sierraclub

The statements above are false.  The timber industry has never expressed any interest in logging giant Sequoias.  Nor has anyone in the administration suggested any such thing.  In fact, a coalition of forestry associations recommended changes to GSNM to better protect Giant Sequoia groves.  Within the current monument area, there are 38 Giant Sequoia groves constituting about 27,830 acres of forest.  When zones of influence (buffers) are included the total acreage increases to just over 90,000 acres.  While undoubtedly well-intentioned, President Clinton’s designation of 327,760 acres went far beyond these unique forests and now restricts the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to use science-based, active forest management to thin the adjacent forests to protect the Giant Sequoia groves.

Over the past two years over 20 percent of the GSNM has burned, including over 62,000 acres in the 2015 Rough Fire and substantial portions in the 2016 Cedar Fire.

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While it is fortunate that we have not yet lost Giant Sequoia groves in these fires, it is only a matter of time unless action is taken to reduce fuel loading and restore forest resiliency to the adjoining forests.

At a time when public confidence in the media and government is threatened by fake stories and rumors spread through social media, it is important to keep the debate grounded.  Reasonable people can disagree, but people who can’t agree on a common set of facts can never agree on more important questions.  Our whole system of government is undermined by the lack of trust.  An environment of disinformation and paranoia empowers extremist voices, leading to poor policies and suffering communities.

Clearly, there is some disagreement about the best way to protect Giant Sequoias in GSNM.  But a debate about the best policy is not moved forward by using misrepresentations to raise money.