THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Atlanta, Georgia) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 15, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE FRAMPTON, ACTING CHAIR OF WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY Sheraton Colony Square Hotel Atlanta, Georgia
2:40 P.M. EDT
MS. CHITRE: Good afternoon. As you know, the President tomorrow will be going to Sequoia National Forest in California's Sierra Nevada. And here to brief you on the President's event is George Frampton, Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Just a reminder, this briefing is on the record, but it embargoed until 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time, tomorrow, Saturday, April 15th.
MR. FRAMPTON: Thank you. That's 4:00 a.m. California time. (Laughter.) I'm George Frampton. I'm the Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. And I'm going to talk for a few minutes about what the President is going to do tomorrow morning, when he leaves Palo Alto.
He's going up into the Sierra Nevada to an area in the Sequoia National Forest called the Trail of One Hundred Giants to sign a proclamation that will create a new Sequoia national monument. And the map that I have behind me shows you the monument boundaries in black. There's a southern unit down here and a northern unit, and in between the orange area there is Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park. To orient you about where this is -- Bakersfield is down to the south, about an hour from the southernmost boundary of the monument; Fresno is about an hour to the west, in the Central Calley -- the west of the northern part of the monument -- and Yosemite National Park is about 100 miles north of the northern part of this map.
The total acreage of the monument is about 327,000 acres, which is about a third of the Sequoia National Forest. The monument runs basically contiguous with the western and southern boundary of Sequoia, King's Canyon Sequoia National Park.
Giant sequoias are the oldest and largest trees on the planet. Giant sequoias 25,000 or 30,000 years ago were much more prevalent in the western United States. Now there are only about 75 groves of giant sequoias, and they all occur in a belt which runs along the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains from -- northernmost is Mariposa grove in Yosemite National Park, and run down through Kings Canyon Sequoia and the national forest down to -- the southernmost grove is at the southern end of the new national monument.
There are about 75 groves. More than half of those groves are not in the national parks. So more than half of those groves are not now permanently protected, until the President signs this proclamation tomorrow. He'll be creating the national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the President to, through executive order, to protect objects of historic and scientific interest. The Act has been used more than 100 times by almost every President. And as you probably know, President Clinton has created four national monuments: Grand Staircase in Utah in 1996, and then earlier this year a new national monument north of Grand Canyon, and two others in Arizona and California -- a coastal island national monument and a Agua Fria National Monument to protect prehistoric dwelling sites.
The monument will be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture. The President will be joined in a walk along the trail of the Hundred Giants by Secretary Dan Glickman and by the supervisor of the Sequoia National Forest, Art Gaffrey.
Because there are some really unique scientific issues about sequoia groves, the proclamation directs that the Secretary of Agriculture appoint a scientific advisory committee, with the assistance of the National Academy of Sciences, and the scientific advisory committee will guide the development of a management plan for the new monument over the next three years.
A number of things that are important aspects of the management of the monument that are contained in the proclamation I just want to touch on because a number of them are directly responsive to concerns or opposition that has been expressed in the Central Valley to the idea of a monument. About two months ago, the President asked Secretary Glickman to investigate the possibility of a monument; the Secretary made his recommendation last Friday. There were two public hearings in the valley, a lot of public comments have been solicited.
I think that the polling that we have shows, for example, in California that public support for a monument about 80 percent, 9 or 10 percent opposed; even in the counties nearby in the Central Valley, about two-to-one in support of a monument. But there have been a number of concerns expressed by the public about what this means, public access and fire management. So I want to touch on those, although many of those questions will ultimately be resolved, the details will be resolved through scientific study and development of a management plan.
The proclamation specifically directs that the monument will be managed to support and encourage public and recreational access, and for educational values. It is not expected that any roads will be closed. This is a measure which is designed to protect the groves, not to close off the forest, so existing recreational uses -- cabins, use of roads -- is pretty much expected to continue.
The proclamation does direct that there will be no more commercial timber sales in the monument. So commercial logging is ended. There is a transition period; there are a number of timber sales that have been sold already and are ongoing. And those will be implemented. That will probably be over the next two to two and a half years, there will be a transition period while those sales are finished off. After that, there will be no commercial logging on the forest, no mining, new mining claims.
But recreational access, visitor access, and uses like grazing and beekeeping will continue. You may laugh at that, but apparently one of the big uses of the forest is that people from the Valley take their beehives up there in the summertime and the bees get strengthened. Maybe it's the altitude, or the solitude, I don't know. But it's a good place to get your bees strengthened for agricultural uses. So those kinds of uses will continue.
There will, however, be a limitation in the management plan for -- off-road motorized vehicles will have to stay on designated roads. So the monument would require that motorized vehicles only be allowed on roads that are -- old forest roads that are ultimately designated to allow ORVs or OHVs.
Valid existing rights will all be maintained. And the other issue that has come up in local opposition has to do with camps. There are a number of summer camps that use the forest. One is called the Hume Lake Christian Camp, which is actually not on federal land, it's on private land within the monument. So it would not be affected in any way by the monument proclamation. And several camps, several boys' camps, that are on Forest Service land but use the land by special use permit during the summer. Now, they have been concerned about whether those camps would be closed down. There's no expectation at all that any of those camps would in any way be affected by the monument proclamation.
Finally, the monument -- in the Antiquities Act, there's a requirement that monument boundaries be the smallest practicable boundaries to protect the objects of interest -- in this case, the objects are the sequoia groves and some of the wildlife that is part of their ecosystem. And the Forest Service has spent a good deal of time over the last several months determining a set of boundaries that is the smallest practicable boundaries.
And I put up a map over here, if anybody's interested, which shows a number of other proposals. In the last 10 years there have been several bills introduced by then-Congressman George Brown to create a preserve, a sequoia preserve in this area, with different boundaries.
There's an environmental group proposal, very detailed. The Forest Service put out a set of maps for the public hearing showing all the previous proposals. None of the boundaries are exactly the same. In the end, what the Forest Service recommended, and the President is going to sign, is a proclamation that has a set of boundaries that is not identical to any of these other proposals. It's a little smaller than all of the other proposals. But it's basically designed to provide permanent protection for the groves themselves, but also for the watersheds, sub-watersheds that are important to the groves, because both running water and ground water from uphill are an important part of preserving these trees. And also the areas that are zones of fire influence.
One of the biggest threats to the sequoias right now is that 100 years of fire suppression in the Sierras has produced a very high fire threat. And a central issue about management is how to reduce that fire threat. So the boundaries are drawn also to make sure that areas where prescribed burning or controlling fires that have to be done to protect the sequoia groves are all within the monument boundaries.
I guess that's probably enough for Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. And I'm happy to take any questions.
Q Do you know how many timber jobs, or any jobs at all would be lost by this?
MR. FRAMPTON: The only negative economic impact that we can perceive at all -- I mean, I think there's some real positive long-term benefits here, economic impacts -- there are two mills the are owned by the same family. One is in a little town called Terra Bella, south of Porterville, down here -- and the other is up north in a town called Dinuba. The Duysen family with whom I have had a chance to spend some time over the last month myself, owns both mills. They get about half their timber supply for the southern mill from the Sierra National Forest. Perhaps half the two-thirds of that would be cut off by the monument proclamation after about two and a half or three years.
The transition provisions in the proclamation provide about three years, three more summers of timber supply at current levels. The Duysens are concerned that they might have to close their mill after three years, the southern mill -- although they have gotten timber in the past from New Zealand, northern California and other places. That mill employs about 110 people, including a number of activities which are not directly related to the mill. It is also possible that there are a number of jobs in the dozens probably that would be impacted to some extent by no more commercial timber on the forest.
It's hard to tell what the impact will be because the Sierra Nevada forests are toward the end of a planning process which has reduced the timber cut anyway, and will reduce it further. So it may be that the monument proclamation actually wouldn't be a divergence from what's happening now, but from what's likely to happen, and then the impact would be less.
But if the mill were to close, I think that probably the maximum job impact that would occur three to four years from now is in the 100-150 figure. And we have had some discussions with them about a number of economic mitigation, economic programs that -- to work with them.
There is also the possibility that there will be some timber coming off the monument because of stewardship projects, ecological restoration projects. One of the big public concerns about the monument right there in the valley was that they did not want -- people did not want the same rules that apply in the parks for fire management to apply in the forest. They wanted to make sure that in addition to prescribed burning, that in the monument it would still be possible to do a certain amount of cutting, logging -- not for commercial sale, but for ecological reasons. The proclamation specifically directs that.
So the scientific committee will decide how much logging around inholdings might be necessary to reduce fuel load, or how much -- there is some area that's actually plantation forest in the monument that may need to be thinned. So just as there's some wood that comes off the park now, downed wood that's cut and goes to the mill -- in fact, the park superintendent thinks that there's probably almost as much board feet coming off the park as off the forest right now -- there may be some supply comes off the forest from those kinds of activities that would help keep the mill open. And the mill could buy timber from further away, so the economics of all that are pretty unclear, but we know it's not going to happen for three years.
But there's no promise that there will be any amount of timber coming off the forest after two and a half or three years from now, it's just speculative at this point.
Q How much comes off it now?
MR. FRAMPTON: Well, this Sierra Sequoia National Forest at various times in the '70s and '80s and early '90s produced up to 90 million board feet of timber. In the last couple years it's been closer to 9 million board feet -- 9-15 million board feet. That would likely be reduced even if there were no monument by new rules that are being put into place for forest management. And if the monument, let's say, roughly decreases the timber cut by two-thirds from this forest, then you're talking about someplace probably between 5-10 million board feet a year, which is not a very big amount of timber. It's a very small amount of timber.
But for this one particular mill, which basically takes all of this forest timber plus some from the Tule Indian Reservation tribe, which is this area -- conceivably, 5-8 million board feet a year could make the difference between the mill closing and not closing. And one can't say that it wouldn't. Right now there are 22 million board feet of timber under contract, but not cut, and another 8 million that has been prepared for sale.
So we are supplying about 30 million board feet of transition-out timber, and that's at least three years' supply of federal timber for this mill, particularly.
Q What kind of trees are those, and were they planted for that purpose?
MR. FRAMPTON: Almost nothing that's taken off this forest has been replanted. This forest has been pretty cut over in some places, particularly sequoia groves have been cut over. And so it's called white wood -- it's fir and pine, conifer, mixed conifer, smaller logs in many cases. And part of the issue that originally gave rise to the whole sequoia protection movement in the early '90s was that in the 1980s the Forest Service started cutting in and around these groves, and big trees that fell on sequoia trees and undermining the root structure, and so that's a part of the history of this, the movement, the George Brown legislation, to say, look, this is ridiculous, we're damaging sequoia groves, we're cutting small sequoia trees, let's put this off bounds to logging.
Q The difference in when you say not expected that roads would be closed, and then later said, limit off-road vehicles -- how do you reconcile --
MR. FRAMPTON: There's a pretty extensive road system on the forest. They're all logging roads. There is a concern that suddenly this will be a wilderness area and gates will come down on all the roads. That's not going to happen. But it is possible over time that, with a scientific management plan, that they'll want to reduce the road system in some places, so it's impossible to predict that every road on the forest is going to stay open.
The issue that I addressed is off-road vehicles -- motorcycles, three-wheelers -- and like the other national monuments that the President has proclaimed in many other forested areas, the proclamation provides that off-road vehicles have to stay on designated roads. So the management plan itself will say which roads will stay, which will be put to bed or closed off, and which will be appropriate for off-road vehicles. So there will be a limitation on off-road vehicles, on motorcycles.
One of the controversial issues in the forest, pre-monument, is the conflict between the Horsemen's Association and guides and outfitters who take horseback trips, and motorcyclists on trails. And this proclamation would, after this summer -- there's a transition period for this summer -- but after this summer would bar motorcycles and off-road vehicles from trails. They would be allowed on roads, but only pursuant to what the management plan eventually prescribes, for which roads will be appropriate for jeeps, motorcycles, and off-road vehicles.
Q Could I follow up? How about snowmobiling? I read the Bakersfield paper on the Internet, and they're all upset about snowmobiles, saying that roads are closed in the wintertime, what do we do? Will they have designated snowmobile trails, which apparently is a huge deal?
MR. FRAMPTON: There will be designated -- I mean, as you can tell, that's something of an issue right now, monument or no monument. There will be designated trails for snowmobiles, but snowmobiles, like other motorized vehicles, will not have completely free run of the forest on any small trails at any time. There will be some management plan that is developed to determine what's open to snowmobiles and what's not in the wintertime.
Q George, I read somewhere that -- how many board feet can you get out of one of those big giant sequoias? I read somewhere there was enough wood to build a house. Is that --
MR. FRAMPTON: I probably should know that, and I'll find out by tomorrow. I mean, I suspect that one of the larger trees has got to be a half million board feet or more. Certainly enough to build a good-sized house or two.
Q Do people actually cut those now? I mean, you mentioned some people were cutting small sequoias, but --
MR. FRAMPTON: No, you'll see -- if you're -- I don't know who is going up there, who's not. I guess some of you are, anyway. You'll see some of the small sequoia trees, which are funny-looking cone tops. But there is no -- there isn't a permanent prohibition right now on cutting small sequoia trees. There's a prohibition on cutting the big trees, which is part of a temporary lawsuit settlement from the late '80s, and a President Bush, George Bush, proclamation in 1992, which also could be undone by a subsequent executive order.
So there hasn't been any actual cutting of giant sequoia trees for the last -- probably 25 years, on federal land. But there was some damage to them, and some cutting in the groves, in the mid- and late 1980s. There is one -- of the 75 groves, one -- one grove is still on private land. And it is called the Collingwood grove, and it's right up here.
The nice thing about this map, if you're interested, is that it shows where the groves are. The little red things are -- all these are groves. Those are the groves. And the Collingwood grove is the last grove in the world in private hands. And I think the President will speak about that tomorrow, because the Save the Redwoods League has an arrangement with the owner to try to buy it, and we have asked for some of the money to do that in our FY 2001 budget. And so that will be part of his plug for our Lands Legacy program, the kind of place we want to include in federal ownership.
But remember, everything that's going into the monument is already federal land. So the monument does not -- there are a lot of inholdings, there's state and private land, about 27,000 acres or 28,000 acres, of inholdings within the monument. And those are not included in the monument boundary. The Antiquities Act only allows the President to place protection over lands that are already owned by the federal government.
Q Are you worried that the Republicans might try to reverse the Antiquities Act, or amend it, to allow for more congressional consultation?
MR. FRAMPTON: There is legislation that has passed the House, and is being considered in the Senate Energy Committee, that would place some restrictions on use of the Antiquities Act, although its intent appears to be only to require the President to consult with state and local government and congressional delegations before doing a monument, and therefore -- we've actually gone through all the steps required, ostensibly required by that legislation in this case. I don't think that legislation is necessary.
It's interesting that even this monument, which seems very popular in California, has encountered local opposition in the San Joaquin Valley and some of these communities in the western side of the Sierras, which tend to be very jealous of their uses of the forest. And it's a reminder that almost every monument proclamation in history has met with some local opposition. That's true of the creation of Grand Teton, Olympic, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands. C&O Canal was a national monument, very controversial when it was proclaimed as a national monument. But you know, a few years later, looking back, there are very, very few of these places that are controversial anymore.
Q Do you plan any improvements or educational facilities, trails -- you know, that kind of thing -- like they have in the parks for visitors?
MR. FRAMPTON: To some extent, that will be up to the scientific advisory committee and the Forest Service managers and budgets. But the one thing that the proclamation mentions and that the Secretary of Agriculture is going to direct the forest supervisor to do after the proclamation is to try to have a plan for increasing educational use of the monument, which would be not only scientific use, but kids, interpretation. So it is possible that some trails and roads could be built to help people get to some of these remote areas, but it would have to be done consistent with the protection of the groves in mind.
There are no big development plans, but I think it is possible that certainly more trails could be developed over time if the money is available to try to get more people into these places and help them understand.
A lot of these groves are off-trail or at the end of pretty long trails. I mean, some of them, like the parks, are right by the road, but there are a lot of huge groves that are very seldom visited.
Q Isn't that sort of to the good, though?
MR. FRAMPTON: Well, it depends on how well they're managed. I went to a program the other evening -- the National Geographic had its seven Explorers in Residence talking about the future of exploration, a once-in-a-lifetime program. And they all talked about conservation and they got asked the same question -- you discover these peoples and these mummies and these sites, and don't the exploiters come along? I mean, doesn't this open these places up to be ruined? And, unanimously, they said, look, we need to understand -- if we don't understand what's at stake, we are not going to protect these places. Yes, there's a risk, but it's understanding that helps us protect them. And if we don't understand them, they are going to be exploited.
So, all right. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
END 3:15 P.M. EDT