A Letter to Brent McCoy

© 2000, by Mark Vande Pol, all rights reserved



This letter is about President Clinton's Proclamation 7295 "protecting" giant Sequoia groves, originally published as an article in eco-logic online in May 2000.

Dear Henry,

I wish to address the unspoken assumptions in the comments of Mr. Brent McCoy in the letters section of your last issue, concerning the Clinton Administration "protection" of nearly 400,000 acres of land containing 15,000 acres of Giant Sequoia forests under the Antiquities Act.

Brent apparently assumed that the best thing we can do to protect a pristine, natural habitat is to invoke the hand of government to prevent the ravages of human industry. By inference, he is also assuming that Bill Clinton is ‘doing the right thing to protect these forests’.

Brent might be somewhat taken aback to hear that, as a result of this impending, unconstitutional taking of private property, the primary threats to the health of sequoia forests will now be… Bill Clinton and the fire management policies of the Sierra Club! With all the white fir, pine, and underbrush in the forests surrounding and infusing isolated pockets of "protected" sequoia, what Mr. Clinton has done at the Club's behest is to doom much of that forest to death and destruction by catastrophic fire. With the "let it burn, conflagrations are inevitable" fire policy of the Sierra Club, established firmly within federal resource agencies, we won’t have to wait long for ‘inevitable’.

None of the sequoia forests is in either pristine or "Natural" condition. They have been under a continuous regimen of human fire management for a very long time. Giant Sequoia is a species, subject to understory competition by fir, pine, and underbrush. Under the pre-colonial fire regimen, more frequent, relatively cool fires cleared these competitors to sequoia on a more periodic basis. Such treatments did much to provide a germination bed for sequoia seedlings. What government forest management has done is to suppress regular fire and allow fuel accumulations to reach horrific proportions.

There are now few juvenile sequoia seedlings in those forests, as has been the case for over a hundred years. Brent might wish to consult John Muir’s classic, The Mountains of California, which details precisely these conditions (with the exception of King's Canyon). The Sierra Club is convinced that it is "Natural" to have these enormous fires upon the strength of archaeological evidence that they have happened before and that this is the only tool to be "allowed" to reduce fuel accumulations. What they might not have considered is that such infrequent conflagrations, as opposed to frequent and cooler fires, may abet the spread of the fir and pine, in competition with sequoia. They have apparently never questioned whether these holocausts had a role in the retraction of sequoia from its ancient range or whether such an event is destructive to their health, and it is highly likely that no one would have a definitive answer if they did bother to ask. If, one of their "planned ignitions" gets out of control, the Sierra Club is certainly ethically capable of simultaneously declaring such a fire equivalent to a Natural event and that the fuel levels were the fault of human management. They have adamantly demanded implementation of the policy that under no circumstances should mechanical reduction of fuel accumulations be allowed, prior to the institution of a program of prescribed fire.

If Brent wants to confirm that statement, he can consult The Sierra Club Policy: Public Lands Fire Management, available for inspection at http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/fire.asp. It was written immediately after the debacle in Yellowstone National Park (upon which revisionist history is being written to this day). If Brent reads the policy, he might consider whether ‘limited planned ignitions’ have a way of becoming ‘inevitable conflagrations’ where there are ‘dangerous fuel accumulations’. Unfortunately, that is the only action the Club will ‘allow’. For evidence of this kind of hubris elsewhere, Brent would do well to consult the history of the Quincy Library Group regarding their struggles with similar, duplicitous zealots in Plumas County, California. He can read that story at http://www.qlg.org. QLG is scrupulously honest in presenting both sides to their arguments with links to the pages opposing their view. Brent should go to those opposition pages to verify that there is sadly, no reciprocal level of mutual respect, objectivity, or hard data as would be rationally expected of an organization with an honest commitment to a 'consensus process'.

Sequoia gigantea has been protected from commercial logging on federal lands for a very long time, but… Wait a minute! Didn’t the activists say that the objective of the Executive Order was to protect the sequoia from logging? Yes they did. They wanted to stop the logging of the surrounding fir and pine. Such statements are duplicitous inferences intended to allow the public to fear that greedy loggers were rapaciously striving to cut the last remaining sequoia trees. There is no commercial logging of sequoia, on federally managed lands.

Brent might then respond, ‘Oh, but what about privately managed lands. Maybe we should protect the sequoias there? They are, after all, unique, precious, and rare.’

There is an interesting little article, Careful Logging Sparked New Sequoia Grove, still available for his inspection, that describes the superior environmental record of Dillonwood, a privately managed sequoia forest to the north of Sequoia National Park owned by the Reed family. (http://www.fresnobee.com/localnews/story/0,1724,128280,00.html). The Save-the-Redwoods League thought so highly of that forest stand that they wanted to buy it, but first they would have had to raise a cool $5 million and get Congress to approve matching funds. With a mere stroke of the pen, Mr. Clinton has made that unnecessary, by making Dillonwood economically worthless; raiding the hard-earned wealth and denigrating the stewardship practiced by the Reed family over decades.

Perhaps Brent would rest easier if he knew that Sequoia gigantea is an extremely successful export tree for commercial wood production, worldwide. He could make the tree a little less rare and take his life- savings, buy a property, purchase sequoia seedlings from the Johnsteen Company, and plant them himself. He can compete with commercial sequoia forests in places as far away as Morocco, Germany, and Scotland who don't have to worry about California's department of Fish and Game and Forest Practice Rules. After a lifetime of hard work, he can then have it all taken away, simply because there are a lot of people, who think just like him, that "our" sequoia forests are unique, precious, and rare. So perhaps sequoia forests are not as endangered as he had thought; except for those taken from landowners and put under the management of the United States Government!

Clinton, Gore, and the activist corporate foundations that support them will eventually be guilty of some of the greatest ecological catastrophes of this or any century. Tragically, we may never learn of them unless we have a scientific community unshackled from the economic heroin of politically motivated funding. Even if money and religious brainwashing doesn’t corrupt silvicultural science completely, unless we have an intelligent and unbiased press, empowered with access to investigate and publicize the damage done, we may never hear the true story when it happens. Mr. McCoy’s ill-informed suppositions are merely dispiriting confirmation to that effect. He has unwittingly abetted the ecological damage being done by the Clinton/Gore juggernaut, by justifying his willingness to support their vicious trashing of fundamental human rights in return for their having effected his personal claim on the use of that forest without having to pay what it is worth.

Worst of all, (and frankly, Henry, the source of my personal anguish over such things) Brent will therefore have to share culpability for the 'inevitable' combustion of a large part of that forest into ashes and water pollution, a forest that I have loved since I was a child. Worse yet, subsequent to said conflagration, there is a very real possibility that combusted forest will be invaded by weeds, before the sequoia dominated ecosystem could ever recover its former vigor, which might well mean, never.

Private property rights are what preserved the freedom for the Reed family to do something at variance from a political forest management regimen, specific to the needs of their forest. The personal pride, and sense of privilege that giving your life to owning and improving a beautiful forest at a modest profit can bring, was all the motive and capital required to make it happen. It cost us nothing, it gave us wealth, it gave us usable material, it paid taxes, it raised families, and it gave us a better forest.

Freedom is what gave us the independent science that improved our knowledge and skill with which to manage this precious species successfully. Diverse courses of scientific inquiry are as important a set of global ecosystem assets as is biodiversity. Civic respect for inalienable property rights is what protected that healthy forest from political mismanagement. Without them, Mr. McCoy, we have a great many more to lose.

Mark Edward Vande Pol is a medical device engineer and author engaged in habitat restoration science. He has no interest in commercial logging. His coming book: Natural Process: That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Nature details the adverse environmental impact of political and legal ecosystem management. He proposes an alternative, free-market environmental management system that can account for externalities through private certification, risk management, and fluid transactions in uses of private property.