The National Park Service (NPS) is accepting public comments through 3/18 on a plan to potentially use helicopters and plant as many as 600,000 giant sequoia and other seedlings across 1,100 acres in the John Krebs and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wildernesses in California. The proposed timeline is two weeks in Fall 2023-2025, but could extend into 2028. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this latest proposal is an expanded version of a plan from last year that called for planting up to 12,000 seedlings on 48 acres within Wilderness.
The project area includes the Homers Nose, Board Camp, Dylan Wood, Redwood Mountain, Suwanee, and New Oriole Lake giant sequoia groves, all within Wilderness in Sequoia National Park. Board Camp and some of these other groves burned intensely in the 2020 Castle Fire, and the NPS fears that increasingly hot and dry conditions may prevent giant sequoias from naturally regenerating. The NPS is currently collecting giant sequoia cones and looking at regeneration on the ground, with a focus on the area with the lowest regeneration rate. While the proposal is somewhat unclear, the NPS might cut down trees so that helicopters can be used for transporting seedlings and tools. The agency doesn’t indicate the number of helicopter flights or whether helicopters will indeed be used.
The Wilderness Act prohibits manipulating Wilderness—like what the NPS proposes in this massive landscaping project—for good reason. Wilderness is meant to be shaped by natural processes, not gardened into what land managers want. Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser put it best when he implored us to be “guardians not gardeners.”
The proposal violates the fundamental values of Wilderness, and is an example of how, when faced with the effects of climate change, land managers are increasingly looking to intervene in and manipulate Wilderness. Planting in Wilderness, regardless of how well intended, violates a fundamental tenet of Wilderness—that it remains “untrammeled,” or unmanipulated.
Helicopters are antithetical to Wilderness, and prohibited by the Wilderness Act, except in rare cases where such use is essential to wilderness protection or search and rescue operations. Helicopters harass wildlife and destroy the experience for wilderness visitors.
Instead of planting giant sequoia and other seedlings, possibly cutting down snags, and using helicopters in Wilderness, the NPS should allow natural regeneration to continue to occur, no matter what that ends up looking like. Not only is this the right thing to do for Wilderness, but it also presents a perfect opportunity to study natural regeneration in an area burned by a high intensity fire.
Please urge the Park Service to drop this proposal to use helicopters, remove snags, and plant trees in the Wilderness, and let the Wilderness be wild, as the Wilderness Act requires. If the agency wants to plant trees, it can do so in groves outside of Wilderness.
Submit your comments by March 18: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=126380
Feel free to copy and paste our suggested talking points, but please use your own words where possible: