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Giant Sequoia National Monument Created

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton issued an executive order Saturday creating Giant Sequoia National Monument--a 328,000-acre expanse of granite domes and plunging gorges that holds 34 groves of ancient sequoias, among the oldest and largest trees on Earth.

The order will end within 2 1/2 years commercial timber harvesting in the new monument area, which covers about one-third of Sequoia National Forest here in Central California.

Giant sequoias once thrived across western North America. But now only about 75 groves remain, all on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Of these, 25 groves are protected in Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.

“This is not about locking up lands, but freeing them up for all Americans,” Clinton said to a small crowd of environmentalists gathered in the morning chill.

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Before signing the document, Clinton took a brief stroll through the Trail of 100 Giants. Chewing on a twig, he admired the majestic sequoias. Later he called them “clearly the work of the ages.”

Opponents say the action is a federal land grab that could imperil local jobs and curb recreation.

Certain recreational activities will face new restrictions in the designated monument.

After this summer, off-road vehicles and motorcycles will be barred from all trails within the monument.

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But nonmotorized recreational activities--such as hiking, camping, fishing, rafting and horseback riding--will be unaffected, according to administration officials.

They said the action preserves access to private lands while allowing “special uses,” such as grazing and the continued operation of several summer camps.

The new monument will be in two parcels of Sequoia National Forest, which is about an hour by car north of Bakersfield and about an hour east of Fresno. The northern parcel is bordered approximately by the Kings River system, and the southern parcel roughly by the north fork of the Kern River.

Giant sequoias are of special interest to scientists because their rings contain records of past environmental changes going back thousands of years.

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Under Clinton’s executive order, the Forest Service is to adopt a detailed management plan for the monument and receive outside expertise from a National Science Advisory Board panel of experts on such issues as fire management.

Republicans have criticized the plan, which was recommended earlier this year by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, whose department oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) called the action blatantly political and said it would reduce the number of timber industry jobs in Sequoia National Forest.

He and two other California legislators are promoting legislation to require an 18-month study on how best to protect the trees, some of which are 3,000 years or more old and 30 feet across.

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At two earlier public hearings in the Central Valley, Glickman’s recommendation to declare the monument drew heated opposition from some residents who complained about the expected drop in logging and the new limits on forest use.

George Frampton, acting chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said “the only negative economic impact” of Clinton’s executive order is the probable closing in several years of two nearby lumber mills, costing 100 to 150 jobs.

With his second term winding down, Clinton has moved aggressively to enhance protection of federal lands, actions that have angered an array of timber and recreational interests.

Clinton has acted under the auspices of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which authorizes presidents to create national monuments on federal land to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” All but three presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have invoked the law to create such national landmarks as Death Valley.

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In Congress, disenchantment with Clinton’s use of the law has prompted House Republicans to enact a bill to restrict a president’s authority under the act. The bill is pending before the Senate Energy Committee.

Frampton noted that virtually every previous national monument, including the Grand Canyon, was met with initial opposition.

The increasingly legacy-minded Clinton has created four other national monuments: Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Agua Fria in Arizona, and the California Coastal National Monument, which consists of uninhabited islands off the coast.


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