Wilderness Watch is urging the National Park Service (NPS) to drop a proposal to use helicopters and plant tens of thousands of giant sequoia seedlings in the remote Board Camp Grove in the John Krebs Wilderness in California. The proposed timeline is two weeks in October 2022, but could go into 2023 or even end up being a five-year project.
Board Camp was one of several giant sequoia groves in Sequoia National Park that 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 also proposing to cut down and remove snags, or dead trees, so that seedlings can be flown in via helicopter. The agency doesn’t indicate the number of helicopter flights.
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. The Park Service gathered cones in the burned area of the Wilderness last year. This begs the question of why the NPS doesn’t allow natural regeneration to occur (whatever that ends up looking like in the Wilderness), which would present a perfect opportunity to study natural regeneration in an area burned by a high intensity fire. The NPS should also leave snags to stand. In any case, there are 100 seedlings per acre now and no explanation of why more are desired.
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.
If the agency wants to plant trees, it can do so in groves outside of Wilderness.
Photo: Board Camp Grove by NPS