By Dr. Mehmet McMillan and Art Rodriguez
The Department of the Interior recently opened a “review” of certain national monuments created in the last 20-plus years, including the Giant Sequoia, for which comments were accepted until July 10. There was an extensive public discussion and outreach around designation, which had widespread support. Local communities overwhelmingly want to keep the monument intact, as shown by the town of Porterville, which wrote a letter supporting the monument and asking for a visitor center.
The Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM) protects 328,315 acres in the Sierra Nevada. It is most notable for its collection of towering giant sequoias, its vast and lush mountain meadows, and its thousands of miles of pristine streams. Native Americans have inhabited the area for at least the past 8,000 years, leaving behind artifacts, petroglyphs and village sites. The Giant Sequoia, only naturally visible on the western slope of our Sierra Nevada, are some of the largest and oldest living trees on earth.
A Letter from WildPlaces
The Honorable Ryan K. Zinke
Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20240
I am a resident with land directly adjacent to the GSNM and the founder of a youth empowerment organization who relies on the Monument for the critical aspect of utilizing the outdoors to save the lives and empower the futures of youth in Tulare, Kern, and Fresno Counties. I express here my strong support for keeping Giant Sequoia National Monument intact.
In addition to the many true arguments stating that protecting lands with Monument designations benefit the economy and ecology for landowners directly impacted by public lands, for me, the one argument that stands apart is the absolute need for disadvantaged youth to feel ownership in something greater than themselves. While home, school, and the systems in this area often fail youth, our outdoor programs and those like it fulfill youths’ expectations and provide a safe space for them to heal and plan for a brighter future.
WildPlaces strives to develop thinking, feeling, and viable future generations who can lead well after you and I are history. But as long as youth (both underserved and advantaged) remain stuck in challenges not of their own making, our future as a country is bleak. Open, wild spaces will be key to preventing that demise. You and I are responsible for ensuring that.
My personal economic stability allows me to live anywhere, yet I live and pay taxes here because I choose to. I am sure even you know folks like me who have made similar choices to forgo personal comfort and instead live in places where the need is great. A large part of why that is possible and why WildPlaces succeeds is the large and intact public lands here that offer educational experiences beyond anything else that the land may provide.
I trust that you will do what the citizens of this country require of you in spite the circumstances that have put you in such a position of authority. That requirement is to ensure that public lands remain intact and protected in every way possible – not for you or for me, but for future generations.
D. Mehmet McMillan
Founder and CEO, WildPlaces
Tulare County Sheriff Ordered to Remove Citizens from Public Meeting
By Art Rodríguez
The most honorable elected official recuses him or herself from agenda items requiring a vote when he or she has had a relationship with an entity that is even vaguely associated in some way to him or her. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest is notable enough for most elected officials to recuse themselves from a vote.
When we elect individuals to represent us we expect that they will be honorable in the process of doing so. Because the voters believe collectively that they will uphold the value of the position’s integrity. But standards have fallen under a Donald Trump political world.
Most recently here in our own backyard, Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley subscribed to these low standards of representation when he declined to recuse himself from a vote based on an obvious conflict-of-interest issue.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a conflict of interest as a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust. Clear and simple.
At a June 27 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, Worthley voted on a letter of support for the federal government’s effort to dramatically shrink the Giant Sequoia National Monument. He is a one-time logging executive and was counsel to the logging industry, which sued the U.S. Forest Service that manages the monument. Despite pleas from his constituents to recuse himself, Worthley voted and voted in the affirmative. The vote passed 3-2, and the Tulare Board was the only body in the region to support the effort. To add injury to the public, the Board offered no opportunity for public comment on the monument.
On July 11, constituents asked the county to address Worthley’s conflict-of-interest issue. The Tulare County General Counsel was asked during public comment to address and provide a public explanation as to why Worthley was not required to recuse himself from the matter yet no statement has been made. Worthley did what most members of Congress are doing today—not attending his own July meeting to face concerned citizens.
However, it is not only Worthley who is playing by the low standards of this administration but also Chairman Pete Vanderpol III, who directed the sheriff to remove concerned citizens from the chamber who wanted to speak regarding the monument. It was what some would call a sneaky, underhanded D.C.-style attempt to demonize the supporters of the monument.
It is a sad day when our elected officials break ethic rules, deny public engagement and remove respectable opposing positions to quiet their voices.
Worthley’s vote should not have been qualified and must be invalidated, and the Board needs to be more inviting to opposing views. If their politics was to deter us from getting answers, it only empowered us.
Art Rodríguez is chair of the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety in Tulare County and Policy Coordinator at WildPlaces. Contact him at 559-359-0686.