In 2013, I started the Kern River Conservancy to help keep the Kern River clean and safe. It’s not a particularly romantic story: We just got tired of seeing trash and graffiti up and down the banks of our beautiful river. It was from there that we started organizing volunteers and cleaning up the river on an ongoing basis.
Four years later, we are still going strong and working to maintain the bustling economy of the river. This includes preserving ecotourism, hiking, fishing, camping, rafting and visiting Giant Sequoia National Monument and the Sequoia National Forest. Given the role ecotourism plays in the economy, I’m concerned about the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back protections for our country’s national monuments.
By instruction of the president, the Department of the Interior recently conducted a “review” of 27 national monuments throughout the country, including our own Giant Sequoia National Monument. The current administration is considering stripping the monument of the protections it so deserves. Public lands bring millions of dollars into our local economy. Should the administration follow through on eliminating protections for public lands, I fear many local economies will be affected as well.
I am further disheartened by the president’s recent actions to strip protections from Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s subsequent report calling for management and boundary changes to eight other national monuments, including Cascade-Siskiyou in Northern California. Californians should know that other national monuments in California could be the next on the chopping block.
Public lands are the crown jewel of the United States. People from all walks of life come from around the world to visit Giant Sequoia National Monument. Recently, I developed a friendship with a man from India who comes to see the giant sequoia trees every year. He fell in in love with the forest when he first visited them as an international student in California. He now brings his family every single year to visit the Giant Sequoia monument. I share this story because it encapsulates what the monument means to so many throughout the world.
When people come from all over the world to visit Giant Sequoia National Monument, it means full hotels, busy restaurants, crowded bars and bustling stores in our community. A study by Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan research firm, confirms the Giant Sequoia region experienced strong economic growth after the designation of the monument. Overall, outdoor recreation in our state generates approximately 691,000 jobs and $92 billion in consumer spending each year. Our public lands belong to all of us, and they are more than just beautiful sites to see. Ecotourism translates to more jobs and more dollars in our local economy.
Protecting our public lands requires the average person to stand up and do something. Our elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C., work for us. So we must tell them how important national monuments are to communities like Kern County. If we stand by and do nothing, it is possible that in the future, there won’t be a Giant Sequoia monument to visit.
I encourage those of you who support the protection of Giant Sequoia National Monument and public lands throughout the country to take action and become a volunteer or steward of our public lands.
We must stand up for our public lands and our local economy — our rural communities depend on it.