Amid Year-Round Wildfire Threats, Rep. Peters Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Protect Beloved Giant Sequoias
June 22, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) introduced the Save Our Sequoias Act with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16), House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (AR-4), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), and Rep. David Valadao (CA-21). Over twenty members of Congress signed on as original cosponsors. The bill empowers land managers to take action to save the iconic giant sequoia and reduce the severity of wildfires that worsen climate change.
The U.S. government has recognized the importance of giant sequoias for generations. In 1890, Congress created Sequoia and Yosemite as the second and third national parks, in part to protect the giant sequoias. The massive size and long lifespan of the tree can be attributed to its unique characteristics, such as thick and spongy bark and tall branches, that make it highly resilient to fire, insects, and disease. When giant sequoias died in the past, it was mainly due to falling over or after experiencing several severe fires over their long lifespans. The last major loss of giant sequoias due to wildfire was over 750 years ago. Until recently, giant sequoia deaths caused by fire events were “relatively rare” according to the National Park Service.
Now, giant sequoias are facing an existential threat due to decades of poor forest management, fire suppression, and climate change. While these trees can live for more than 3,000 years and are among the most fire-resilient tree species, catastrophic wildfires have destroyed 19% of the world’s population in recent years. Worsening drought conditions and rising temperatures have also helped create an environment that is killing these trees at an alarming and unprecedented rate. Fewer than 75,000 giant sequoias remain and without decisive intervention, we could lose the remaining trees within 25 years.
“The giant sequoia is an iconic species that has provided cultural, environmental, and recreational benefits to humans for generations,” said Rep. Peters. “Poor land management and climate change are driving forces behind severe fires that threaten the survival of giant sequoias and the stability of the climate. In just two years, California wildfires contributed more to climate change than the state’s entire power sector. The bipartisan Save Our Sequoias Act charts a new path forward in federal forest and wildfire policy to combat climate change and ensure the giant sequoias stand safely in their natural habitat for years to come.”
The Save Our Sequoias (SOS) Act creates a comprehensive approach to protect giant sequoia groves against wildland fire and restore recently burned groves. In short, the bill:
• Enhances coordination between Federal, State, Tribal, and local land managers through shared stewardship agreements and the codification of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, a partnership between the current giant sequoia managers.
• Creates a Giant Sequoia Health and Resiliency Assessment to prioritize and inform forest management projects, track project implementation, and study giant sequoia health and resiliency over time.
• Provides funding and establishes a new grant program to support the implementation of forest restoration projects in and around giant sequoia groves.
• Declares an emergency in the giant sequoia groves to codify existing emergency procedures, expedites environmental reviews and consultations, and maintains robust scientific analysis.
• Establishes a comprehensive reforestation strategy to regenerate giant sequoias in groves destroyed by recent catastrophic wildfires.
“Climate-generated wildfires have caused enormous damage throughout California,” said Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). “Without immediate action by the federal government, wildfires could also destroy even more of California’s iconic environmental treasures – our Giant Sequoias. Twenty percent of our Sequoias have already been harmed or destroyed, and the entire population is at its greatest risk in more than 700 years. With his leadership on the comprehensive Save our Sequoias Act, Rep. Scott Peters is helping ensure these awesome giants, who were here long before us, can still be here long after we are gone.”
“Giant sequoias are designed to live with fire, just not the kind of fires we are seeing now,” said The Nature Conservancy Director of North American Policy and Government Relations Kameran Onley. “The Nature Conservancy strongly supports active interventions that are science-based and designed to restore ecological integrity in the areas in and around groves so that when wildfires do come, they are once again restorative rather than destructive. We look forward to working with the Save Our Sequoias Act sponsors to ensure these intentions are reflected in the final legislation and will help facilitate this important work.”
“Protecting and restoring California’s forests and wildlands for the many benefits they provide is a top priority for CAL FIRE and the Newsom administration,” said CAL FIRE Chief Joe Tyler. “As California faces the threats of a changing climate and increasingly longer and more severe wildfire seasons, it will take partners at every level working together to apply solutions rooted in science, resiliency, and forest management best practices to restore the special landscapes that we call home. As the Newsom administration furthers prescribed burning and other successful forest management activities to preserve stands of California’s beloved sequoias from severe wildfires, we appreciate the Save our Sequoias Act’s commitment to these shared values. We look forward to future collaboration and being an active partner as part of this important work to address forest health and resiliency challenges.”
“The Save Our Sequoias Act is assertive legislation that meets the emergency that we’re facing in California’s giant sequoia groves,” said Save the Redwoods League President and CEO Sam Hodder. “The status quo is unsustainable, and this legislation provides our park and forest stewards on the ground the science-based tools and the flexibility they need to save our sequoia.”
“Climate change is fueling megafires in California and the American West via extreme heat and drought,” said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. “These high-severity wildfires are also contributing to climate change by releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and super-polluting black carbon. This creates a dangerous feedback loop as climate change exacerbates fires and fires accelerate climate change. The Save the Sequoias Act responds to the wildfire emergency facing the iconic giant sequoias and provides land managers with new tools and resources to build climate resilience into our precious forest ecosystem. ”
“Grassroots Wildland Firefighters support the SOS Act as an important piece of legislation needed to immediately address the current and potential irreplaceable loss of giant sequoias due to the ever increasing severity of wildfires,” said Grassroots Wildland Firefighters President Kelly Martin. “Grassroots Wildland Firefighters recognize public land management agencies need streamlined tools such as understory removal and prescribed fire at an increased pace and scale to reduce excessive and hazardous forest fuels buildup within and surrounding California's legacy giant sequoia groves. The SOS Act will support efforts for local robust stakeholder partnerships and will help secure the future resilience of these priceless American treasures at the same time creating a safer work environment for the Wildland Firefighters tasked with protecting them.”
“The National Park Foundation supports conservation efforts across the country in partnership with the National Park Service,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “The Foundation applauds the initiative of the Save Our Sequoias Act, and looks forward to applying the best conservation science to protect and restore this iconic species, half of which are found on national park lands.”
In early May of this year, Rep. Peters visited Sequoia National Forest as part of a congressional delegation. Members saw the first-hand damage of wildfires on the sequoia trees, viewed examples of active forest management to make groves more resilient to wildfire, insects, and disease, and participated in a roundtable discussion on the future of the giant sequoias with local organizations.
To watch the full press conference announcing the legislation, click here.