Muir’s light darkens

There’s a bit of environmental irony in the new California quarter.

When the coin goes into circulation in January 2005—with its just-chosen design featuring conservationist John Muir and his beloved Yosemite— Americans will be reminded every day of the Sierra Nevada range and the fierce need for us to protect its lush forests.

But every coin has a flip side. The new quarter celebrates the life passion of a man who, in fact, would be steeped in battle right now because of what’s happening to his beloved mountain range. Muir would be absolutely storming against the changes the Bush administration is trying to make to the management plan of the Sierra Nevada.

Only a few years ago—right here in this editorial space—we lauded an extraordinary agreement called the Sierra Nevada Framework. Adopted in 2001 during the final days of the Clinton administration, the framework was a far-reaching plan for managing the Sierra’s 11.5 million acres of public forest while protecting the state from fire danger. The framework had the unprecedented sign-off from environmentalists, the timber industry and scientists.

Today, the framework is close to being dismantled forever. Soon after entering the White House, Bush-administration officials began a review of the framework, saying it was too restrictive. Last year, a U.S. Forest Service team announced a proposal in process that would gut the plan. Last month, Regional Forester Jack Blackwell announced that this rollback soon would be adopted.

Basically, the rollback will more than double the amount of logging allowed in the Sierra Nevada range as well as weaken protections for the old-growth trees there. It will allow more and bigger trees to be logged— it will be OK to cut trees of 30 inches in diameter in old-growth forests, where the limit used to be 12 inches. The new plan calls for 450 million board feet of timber (that’s three times what was cut last year) to be sawed and sold every year. Blackwell claims the aggressive logging actually will aid the ecosystem and reduce the wildfire threat. But a number of experts (including the Forest Service’s own scientists!) have faulted his assumptions and questioned the scientific justification for such claims.

When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the design for the Muir quarter, he spoke eloquently about the man, the Sierras and the mission we all must share to preserve the Earth’s natural heritage. Now we urge the governor to follow through on his words and use his political clout to oppose the rollback and dismantling of the Sierra Nevada Framework. Also, we urge readers to go to and send comments before April 29.

If things proceed as now planned, all we’ll be left with is a conservationist on a coin, while many of the last undisturbed old-growth stands in Muir’s “range of light” disappear forever.