In a rare act of bipartisanship from California Congressional representatives, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA) have joined together to bring forward a bill aimed at saving giant sequoia trees in California.
The giant sequoia tree, a symbol of California and a major tourist draw, especially in popular Yosemite National Park, have faced a major decline in the past two years. The Castle Fire in 2020, along with the KNP Complex Fire and the Windy Fire last year, destroyed nearly 20% of the existing trees in the state.
Faced with the trees being threatened further by wildfires in the coming years, McCarthy, Peters and others including Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) came together to write H.R. 8168, or the the Save Our Sequoias Act, last month. According to the House bill, $350 million would be given over the next 10 years to “improve interagency coordination, utilize robust scientific analysis to triage high-priority areas, codify and streamline emergency procedures to expedite environmental reviews, and provide land managers with critical new tools and resources.” Essentially, funds would be spent to stop the destruction of the trees and new ways would be found to to help protect them from future wildfire threats.
“Giant Sequoias are native to my district. These wonders live for thousands of years,” said Minority Leader McCarthy last month in a statement. “But in the last three years, nearly 20 percent of the world’s Giant Sequoias have been destroyed by fires.”
“This is devastating. Yet, what these iconic trees have also managed to do is bring together a divided Congress that shares a commitment to protecting these natural wonders.”
“These wonders live for thousands of years, and in their natural habitats, the only way that they die is that they become so large they topple over. You know prior to three years ago, the only historical record we had of a fire destroying a Giant Sequoia was in 1297, but in the last three years, almost 20% of the Giant Sequoias have been destroyed by fires. If we do nothing, we can lose them all. We must act now to ensure that we save them for future generations.”
“Our Giant Sequoias are in crisis, and it’s time to act now.”
Congressman Peters added, “I appreciate Leader McCarthy and Ranking Member Westerman’s collaboration on this important bill. And if you are looking for an example of committed bipartisanship in these times, this is it. After months of negotiations and engagement with land managers, environmentalists, industry representatives, tribal partners, state and local officials, and California and Sequoia experts, we crafted a comprehensive bipartisan bill that meets the scale of crisis.”
Washburn Fire brings new urgency for House bill
Despite it being bipartisan, the bill went off to a slow start last month. However, the eruption of the Washburn Fire, which began on July 7th, in Yosemite National Park quickly changed things. The blaze quickly threatened the trees, including the famed Mariposa Grove, within the park. For a week now, wildfire crews have been working 24/7 to protect as many of the trees as possible. And while progress has been made, the threat of some of the oldest trees on earth being destroyed by the fire remains.
With such a visceral threat now up against the trees, the bill has been quickly gaining support in Congress.
“This bill protects sequoias and the forests around them, so environmentalists love the bill,” explained Timothy Freeman, a researcher for a lobbyist firm who specializes in environmental bills, to the Globe on Thursday. “Those more business and financially motivated see this bill as a boon because it protects these trees which bring in a ton of tourists and money to the state and the local areas. Plus, this bill protects National Parks. Both parties love the National Park System and you would be hard pressed to find any Senator or Congressperson firmly against it.
“Ever since the trees have been under threat though, Congressional members have seen a stark reminder what is stake there and have been more outwardly in favor of the bill. It is all but certain to pass, but the wildfire there is bringing a new urgency to it.”
Those behind the bill have also continued to stress the urgency of the bill and why it needs to be passed soon.
“You don’t have to convince people of the value of these trees,” added Peters on Wednesday. “People love them, and once you see them, they’re pretty majestic. This seems like a really important thing to do for California and something that should be bipartisan.
“We’ve done a hard look at this and provided targeted environmental review that can happen quickly. We can’t wait five, 10 years to do environmental review for each of these groves, or we’ll lose them.”
The Save Our Sequoias bill is expected to be passed in the coming months. As of Thursday, no opposition has come forward against the bill.