Is Giant Sequoia National Monument Next on the Hit List?
By Jason Mark
Sequoiadendron giganteum. That's the scientific name for the giant sequoia: the mammoth trees found in California's Sierra Nevada that are the largest organisms on Earth, and among the longest-lived. Biologists estimate that about half of all sequoias live in Giant Sequoia National Monument, a 328,000-acre preserve in the Southern Sierra Nevada established by President Clinton in 2000.
Now that national monument is in jeopardy.
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April directing Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review national monuments established since 1996 and larger than 100,000 acres to determine whether they should be rescinded or reduced in size, it appeared that California's national monuments were relatively safe. Although California is home to six of the 27 monuments under review (more than any other state), its monuments haven't been as controversial as others on Zinke's list.
So far, much of the Zinke's attention has been focused on Utah's Bears Ears—which earlier this month the interior secretary said he was likely to recommend downsizing—and Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, where, despite strong support from local residents and the rest of the state's political establishment, Gov. Paul LePage is waging a one-man campaign to abolish the monument. It seemed likely that the six California monuments (Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, Berryessa Snow Mountain, San Gabriel Mountains, Carrizo Plain, and Giant Sequoia) would escape the unprecedented Trump-Zinke assault on public lands.
"When we first heard that Trump wanted to look into the monuments, we thought it wouldn't do much to change things here," said Arturo Rodriguez, policy coordinator for Wild Places, an environmental organization in the southern Sierra Nevada. "Now, we've started organizing and calling friends" to protect Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The fight over the future of Giant Sequoia will intensify Tuesday, June 27, as supervisors in two California counties vote on measures to roll back protections for forests within the monument. Supervisors in Tulare County will consider a resolution urging Sec. Zinke to "clearly permit the removal of dead or dying hazard trees and to allow the U.S. Forest Service to actively manage the groves"—a demand that echoes the wishes of logging companies, which for years have sought to cut timber in the monument. Also Tuesday, supervisors in Kern County will vote on a resolution calling on Sec. Zinke to reduce Giant Sequoia National Monument by 200,000 acres.
While the Kern County proposal to slash the monument by two-thirds would still protect the groves where the giant sequoia are found, conservationists say the idea ignores the biological necessity of protecting the entire ecosystem. For the sequoias to thrive, the forests surrounding them also have to thrive, too.
"This is the remaining extent of the largest trees on the planet, the largest living things on the planet, and they exist within the context of an area that has been heavily logged," said Paul Ringgold, chief program officer of Save the Redwoods League. "In addition to the 90,000 acres that are specific to the giant sequoia groves, we believe that the rest of the area is deserving of protection so that it can function as a whole ecosystem, and not just as a zoo or a bell jar placed over these remaining sequoia groves and calling it good."
"These groves are part of a larger web of life," said Ryan Henson, senior policy director at the California Wilderness Coalition. "They are surrounded by tree species that would be giants in and of themselves if they weren't dwarfed by the sequoias." Henson said that the current 300,000-plus acres of protection are necessary to give sequoias the ability to spread to new areas as temperatures increase due to climate disruption. "Giants need room to roam—even if they're trees."
Some of the arguments being deployed against Giant Sequoia misrepresent basic facts about how the monument is being managed and appear to be a thinly veiled attempt to allow commercial logging in the area, conservation groups say. The Kern County draft resolution, for example, says that "dying trees from the many years of drought are directly threatening our mountain communities," in the words of the Kern County draft resolution. But according to Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy, the management plan for the monument allows for select logging along Forest Service roads to reduce fire risk and intensity. The wildfire issue, Britting said, "is a red herring."
And while monument opponents claim there wasn't adequate public input in President Clinton's decision to create the monument— "local officials were not invited for public comment, feedback was not received from the community," the Tulare County draft resolution says—the effort to create the monument was, in fact, broad-based. In the lead up to monument designation, 65 California state legislators and 16 members of Congress from California wrote to President Clinton asking him to protect the area. The Sierra Club gathered some 600,000 postcards from people in support of monument creation. "The vetting went on for several years, with stakeholders and researchers examining the benefits of that landscape from an economic value, a water quality and habitat value, and looking at the various pros and cons," Ringgold said.
"The way I see it, and this is just my read, is that the logging companies are letting the county commissioners carry water for them" said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, a forest watchdog group. "They have a history of logging that area. There is mature timber there that they would love to log if they could."
Indeed, even after the monument was created, logging companies were trying to cut timber there.
The original management plan for the monument—drafted by the George W. Bush administration and released in 2005—allowed for commercial logging in the area. Conservation groups sued to stop that plan, and in 2006 a federal judge ruled against logging in the monument. Since President Trump took office, the timber industry has begun lobbying for greater logging in the national forests.
Asked for its stance on Giant Sequoia National Monument, the California Forestry Association, a timber industry group, said: "We fully support the protection of the giant Sequoia trees and know that the best way to protect them is to manage the surrounding forestlands by reducing the fuel loads and thinning the surrounding forest to help protect the giant sequoias from catastrophic wildfire. Restricting forest management within the 327,000 acres has created overly dense forestlands. These unhealthy forest conditions are being exacerbated by the bark beetle and are at risk of catastrophic wildfire."
In response, Hanson, a forest and fire ecologist, pointed out that giant sequoias actually require fire for their seeds to effectively germinate and grow into saplings, and he noted that hundreds of scientific studies now conclude that post-fire habitat is some of the very best and most biodiverse wildlife habitat. "When the logging industry says 'thinning', they are really talking about intensive commercial logging projects that would destroy the giant sequoia forest ecosystems and associated forests in the monument," Hanson said.
Even as some officials in Kern and Tulare counties make the case for downsizing the national monument, other community leaders have spoken out in favor of sustaining Giant Sequoia at its current size. Two weeks ago, the city council of Porterville, California—one of the primary gateway communities into the monument—debated a resolution calling for a reduction in the monument's size. The Porterville city council ended up voting 3-2 against monument downsizing and decided to write a letter to Zinke in support of the monument.
While area environmentalists applauded the Porterville vote, the meeting left them worried about the political machinations that appear to be behind the push for monument reduction. One of the more interesting moments at the public meeting (which Wild Places filmed) occurred when council member Cameron Hamilton said that the monument-reduction resolution "came from Congressman McCarthy"—that is, Republican Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader. McCarthy's office did not respond to requests to clarify council member Hamilton's statement.
"We don't know McCarthy's motivation," said Rodriguez of Wild Places. But he says that his group and others remain cautiously optimistic that they will be able to successfully defend the monument. "It's high on our priority list, and we're doing everything we can to get the message out. This place is beautiful. Instead of decreasing it, we should be talking about increasing it."
Reposted with permission from Sierra Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
- 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster ... ›
- Oil Spill Disasters: How to Limit Environmental Damage - EcoWatch ›
- These Danish Companies Plan to Decarbonize Transportation ... ›
- Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life ... ›
- Shipping Industry Could Replace Diesel Fuel With Ammonia to ... ›
Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.
- COVID-19 and the Global Food Supply: Big Lessons From the ... ›
- Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID ... ›
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
- 10 Wildfires Ignite Around Los Angeles in Unseasonable Wind and ... ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Sonoma County Wildfire Spreads 7000 Acres in Less Than Five Hours ›
- What Should We Know About Wildfires in California - EcoWatch ›
- California's Rainless February Points to Dangerous Drought, Early ... ›
By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Human Activity Caused Latest European Heat Wave, Scientists Say ... ›
- Antarctica Experiences First Known Heat Wave - EcoWatch ›
- Intense Heat Wave Bakes Much of the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- Wild-Caught Elephants Can Die Up to 7 Years Earlier - EcoWatch ›
- Thailand's captive elephants face starvation amid COVID-19 tourism ... ›
- Thai Tourist Park Sets Captive Elephants Free to Focus On ... ›
- Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism ›
- Captive Elephants in Thailand May Starve as Tourist Camps Close ... ›
- The Complicated Business of Saving Elephant Tourism: A Skift ... ›