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From Giants to Hot Tubs

January 29, 2003

Judging from a U.S. Forest Service plan released last month, the Bush administration still thinks the way to save a forest is to log it. This time, however, it's not just any forest: It's the Giant Sequoia National Monument, created by President Clinton in 2000 to give its magnificent trees the sort of protection they lacked as part of a less-sheltered national forest. The irony is that the proposal would allow logging crews to cut more and bigger trees than when the 328,000-acre monument was still part of the Sequoia National Forest.

Environmentalists are outraged. California's congressional delegation should be too, and its members should convince the administration and Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman to abandon the plan.

Federal foresters contend that the logging, enough to fill 3,000 trucks a year, is needed to rejuvenate the forest and clear it of fuels that could feed a devastating fire. The forest floors do need to be cleared, but primarily of small trees, underbrush and fallen snags -- not of living trees of up to 30 inches in diameter, sequoias as well as other species. In any event, the shaggy-barked sequoias are remarkably fire-resistant. The forests were periodically rejuvenated by natural fires until the government adopted a policy of snuffing every blaze.

The plan would allow timber crews to fell as much as was logged in the entire 1.1 million-acre Sequoia National Forest in 1998, before the monument was established, The Times' Bettina Boxall reported. Heavy equipment would clear areas of up to two acres. The program would affect nearly 80,000 acres and cost $31.7 million.

The Forest Service insists that the plan, chosen from among six, would save the most land from wildfires because it would log and burn -- in controlled fires -- more than the others. Follow that logic and you would reduce the risk of fire to zero by toppling every tree.

Giant sequoias are the largest of all trees and some of the oldest. They cover about 38,000 acres in the western Sierra, at elevations ranging from 2,500 to 9,700 feet. About 27,000 acres are in groves scattered throughout the new monument. Most of the rest are in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the north. Logging is banned in national parks.

In creating the monument, Clinton recognized that it would provide the chance to test a variety of methods of forest restoration to "counteract the effects of a century of fire suppression and logging." But he made clear that no part of the monument "shall be considered to be suited for timber production."

The federal government created Giant Sequoia National Monument to protect these rare ancient giants for all Americans. The Bush administration seems to think they have a higher purpose as decks and hot tubs.

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