Politics an Issue in Local Vote for President’s National Monuments Proclamation?

A concerted effort to influence Tulare and Kern counties with DC politics may be afoot.

Pushing agendas in a partisan manner didn’t seem to work in Porterville, nor in Kern County – however, the question of whether it came into play with the Tulare County Board of Supervisors is debatable.

A special council meeting in Porterville was called on June 12, specifically and solely for the subject of sending a letter to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to support a reduction in size for the Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM). The council voted 3-2 against the letter, leaving their support lacking. Councilman Cam Hamilton and Mayor Milt Stowe were in favor. Councilmembers Brian Ward, Monte Reyes and Martha Flores opposed.

During the Tulare County Supervisors meeting on June 27, a similar letter of support passed, 3-2, with Supervisors Steve Worthley, Mike Ennis and Kyler Crocker in favor. Chairman Pete Vander Poel and Supervisor Amy Shuklian voted “nay.”

Many Tulare County residents are opposed to the reduction of 328,000 acres to 90,000, and actively stated so during both meetings. So are active environmentalists from throughout the state, and the country.

Those in favor of the proposed reduction, a part of the president’s plan to reduce and/or eliminate some 27 monuments throughout the country, argue that locally there has been no management of the 328,000 acres that make up the local monument. They want the land reduced. Those who want to keep the monument the size as is state a reduction may threaten the future of the Giant Sequoia, as well as the surrounding forest.

In Kern County, the board of supervisors pulled consideration of a letter from its agenda following a flood of opposition from local residents.

Supervisor Mike Maggard told the Bakersfield Californian, “I don’t know how many staff other departments have. I have two. They did nothing else between Thursday and today [Tuesday’s meeting] except deal with this issue.”

Porterville Council Discussion and Vote

At the Porterville Council meeting, Hamilton said, “We’ve been lied to for 17 years – the federal government passed it and hasn’t done a thing with it.

“The monument was supposed to give us all this extra resource of money. I am so irritated with [Senator Dianne] Feinstein over this, I can’t see straight.”

Councilman Ward suggested that Hamilton turn his irritation “into a pearl.”

Ward said he would like to see the monument eventually turned into a National Park – which, he argued, might be harder to do with less land. He said, he would like to see the visitor’s center added to the monument, which would make it “more marketable” to potential visitors.

“We do have connections with congress,” he added, referring to Congressman Kevin McCarthy, a republican whose district encompasses Porterville, and who happens to be the majority leader in the House.

“We do have connections,” said Hamilton, “this is where it came from.”

“Well, it’s a debate all over the country,” Ward said, “about local control.”

“Not this one,” Hamilton snapped back. “You know where this came from, right, from McCarthy.”

“Well, I wasn’t aware,” Ward said. “I didn’t see a letter attached [in the agenda packet].”

“Oh, there will be,” Hamilton replied.

But there won’t be, because the motion for the council to send a letter in favor of reducing the monument, or making any comment to Secretary Zinke, failed.

McCarthy Staff Comments

Congressman McCarthy’s office denied the implication of Hamilton’s comment.

While conducting recent mobile offices, the Giant Sequoia National Monument has become a basis of concern, said Cole Karr, field representative for the congressman.

“We have been reaching out to see what they are thinking,” he said. “We encourage everyone to put it [their thoughts] into writing.”

However, Karr declined that the congressman had asked for either positive or negative feedback on the matter.

“It has been all across the board,” Karr said referencing the discussion and votes in Porterville, Tulare and Kern counties. “Not anyone has the same thing to say.”

Porterville City Manager John Lollis concurred with Karr, stating Porterville Mayor Milt Stowe was contacted by McCarthy.

“The congressman wanted to have the perspective from the city [Porterville] and the county before he made his designation,” Lollis said.

The special council meeting was called by the mayor to coordinate with timing from the county and to give the congressman the city’s perspective as soon as possible, Lollis said.

The comment period designated by the Department of Interior on the issue is open through July 10.

The draft letter rejected by Porterville Council did give a clear history of GSNM.

“There are 33 Giant Sequoia Groves constituting approximately 27,830 acres within the current Giant Sequoia National Monument. The 1988 Sequoia National Forest Land Management Plan was amended in 1990 to create additional buffers around the Groves. President George H.W. Bush issued Proclamation 6457 in 1992 to protect the Giant Sequoia Groves as natural areas, prohibiting mining and commercial timber production, and established buffer zones totaling approximately 90,360 acres. President Bill Clinton issued Antiquities Act Proclamation 7295 in 2000 to establish the Giant Sequoias National Monument at a total of approximately 328,345 acres, as well as committing to the development of a Visitors Center to encourage tourism to the Monument.”

Tulare County Supervisors Discussion and Vote

During a phone interview, Chairman Vander Poel said he believed the issue of sending a letter to Zinke was brought up to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, either to Ennis or Worthley, by Congressman McCarthy, although he wasn’t certain that was 100% accurate.

An original board letter, drafted by Julieta Martinez, the board’s chief of staff, expressed a concern for tree mortality due to passive management exacerbated by drought, bark beetle infestations and wildfires.

“There are at least 8.1 million dead or dying trees in Tulare County attributable to the tree mortality epidemic, and 102 million dead or dying trees throughout the state of California, including millions of dead and dying trees in GSNM,” the letter said.

“We believe the current monument designation has constrained the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to use science-based, active forest management to thin the adjacent forests to protect the groves and buffer the areas from the risks posed by fire, disease, and insect infestations.”

The letter went on to say, “Our Board recommends Presidential Proclamation 7295, and/or any related regulations or administrative guidance, be amended or revised to clearly permit the removal of dead or dying hazard trees, and to allow the U.S. Forest Service to actively manage the groves and associated zones of influence to protect the forest and majestic Giant Sequoias for future generations.”

“One comment not in the letter,” Martinez said during introduction to the subject at the supervisors’ meeting, “is to reduce the size of the monument. Currently, we are not asking for a down size. We are asking for a review of management.”

That changed.

During the well-attended meeting, Vander Poel acknowledged the crowd, but allotted only 15 minutes total for public comment, with three-minutes per individual, to what would be more than the 17 requests to speak, he already had in hand.

Of those who actually got to speak, all were opposed to size reduction of the monument.

Of note were comments made by Soapy Mulholland, president and CEO of Sequoia Riverlands Trust, a regional nonprofit land trust.

“These trees are iconic. This is the only place they grow on the planet,”she said. “Thanks for not taking a stand on reduction.”

Following public comment, Worthley that he supported the reduction to the size of the monument, for which he was booed by the public.

“I know it’s not popular with this crowd,” he said. “But, the monument is not doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Worthley added there was no reasoning behind the additional acreage.

“It was just developed along the Kern County line,” he said. “It was just a land grab.”

Supervisor Ennis said he agreed with Worthley and added how much of a potential fire hazard there was, he thought, adding that his fire insurance on a cabin in the area had been dropped.

Supervisor Crocker suggested the letter be amended to include how active forest management helps with water and creates additional water.

Supervisor Shuklian said she did not agree with the size reduction, but, “that’s not what this letter says.” She did concur with the addendum Crocker suggested.

Following those comments, Supervisor Worthley made a motion for the letter to be sent, to include Crocker’s suggestion and to add the monument be reduced to 90,000 acres. Ennis seconded the motion, the vote was made without further comment and it carried, 3-2.

No one the Voice spoke with argues the fact that there are a lot of dead and dying trees in the monument, the forest, Sequoia National Park, and throughout the county. And, most agree better communication and management needs to take place. It’s just how the management should be handled.

Similar to Councilman Ward’s opinion, Supervisor Vander Poel does not see how a reduction in size of the monument would equal better management.

“From my perspective, I did not believe there was any reason to address the size before the forest service is first addressed on the management of the forest,” he said.

And that, he added, is why he voted “no” to approval of the letter – the size reduction.

Worthley disagrees. During an interview, he stated that he feels the surrounding acreage to the 90,000 core acres, would be better handled not being part of the monument. Either way it would be managed by the US Forest Service, but, Worthley said, he feels there is more of a hands-off approach because of the monument designation.

Currently, “they can do it, but they don’t,” he said of forestry service management. “There’s a great hands-off approach because it’s a monument.”

In actuality, management under the monument designation states resource extraction is not allowed, said Mehmet McMillan, executive director of WildPlaces, a Springville-based environmental organization. If that acreage were to resort back to forestry land, then extraction could take place. The forestry department could contract out for lumber mills to harvest it.

“My question is, ‘would they even want beetle-infested wood,’” McMillian said.

The question of the age of the wood, also had been brought up by Mulholland at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting, stating that mills would not take anything dead for more than one-and-one-half years.

Recuse or Not Recuse

A May 13, 2000 article in the Porterville Recorder stated, “Less than a month after the declaration of the Giant Sequoia monument, the prediction came true: Sierra Forest Product’s Dinuba mill, Sequoia Forest Industries (SFI) would be closed.

“Thursday afternoon, Sierra Forest Product owners Glen and Kent Duysen and Sequoia Forest Industries General Manager Gary Rogers gave the mill’s 105 employees ‘last day’ notices.”

“This is one of the most painful decisions our family has ever had to make,” said Glen Duysen. “At the same time this company was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Clinton-Gore political machine came to town and yanked the banner of honesty and hard work out from under us.”

The article went on to say, “The designation specified that the current timber sales would be allowed over the next two years. On Thursday, Kent Duysen said that wasn’t enough timber to operate both the Terra Bella and Dinuba mills.”

It further stated, “Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley, who represents the Dinuba area, said Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are directly responsible for the closure of the sawmill. Their policy of incrementally restricting access to public lands, changing forest service policy to further restrict timber sales and finally designating the national monument status on the Sequoia National Forest forced more than 100 SFI employees out of work, he said.”

Some local residents said during the supervisors meeting and afterward, they felt Worthley should have recused himself from the county’s vote on the letter in favor of the new presidential proclamation.

“I worked in an industry 25 years ago, that no longer exists,” he said. “I’m not going to recuse myself for that.”

According to Worthley’s resume on the county’s website –

Supervisor Worthley was admitted to the state bar in 1978 and served as an associate for a law partnership before opening a solo practice in 1981. He served as corporate counsel for Sequoia Forest Industries from 1988 to 1995. In addition to his duties as Tulare County Supervisor, Worthley currently maintains a private practice with an emphasis in wills, trusts, and probate.

As counsel for Sequoia Forest Industries, Supervisor Worthley represented the forest products industry in the Sequoia National Forest Land Management Plan mediation process, served as a member of the Forest Products Commission, and represented the company in legal matters regarding timber harvests in Tulare, Fresno and Santa Cruz counties.

Concerned parties, including McMillan, question his disconnect.

Voices Can Still be Heard

While officials of the county and the city of Porterville have come to their own resolutions on the matter, there is still time for local residents to let their voices be heard. The deadline for comment is July 10.

“Fire is a real issue,” McMillan said. “Does there need to be actual management – I would say yes, to roads, structures and communities.”

It is up to individual landowners to maintain and protect their own land, he said.

He also stated that he feels the GSNM is a safe place to visit and recreate.

“Plan ahead,” he said. “Check the weather, check the fire forecast.”

Comments may be made online at www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001

The Department of Interior states, and Karr reiterates:

Before including your name, address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you may ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

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