Whatever a Trump administration means for Central Sierra forests and management of other federal lands in the Mother Lode, local advocacy groups say they expect changes based on what the president-elect has already said about environmental issues.
People with the collaborative Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions group and multi-use boosters with Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources & Environment are cautiously hopeful that having Republican control of the White House and Congress will mean more help with the tree mortality crisis and Rim Fire recovery efforts, as well as a more common-sense approach to forest-based jobs and regulations.
At the same time, the director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, billed as a defender of water, wildlife, and wild places in the Northern Yosemite region, warns Trump’s anti-environment and anti-regulation tendencies are serious threats.
Staff with federal agencies that manage lands in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, including the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation say their core missions remain unchanged.
But they concede it remains to be seen what policies President-elect Trump may prioritize or pursue.
What Trump says
Over the past two years, Trump has said repeatedly he is skeptical of climate change and that he intends to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.
He’s also said that ensuring affordable access to clean water for all Americans “may be the most important issue we face as a nation for the next generation,” and it “must be a top priority for my administration.”
Lists of potential appointees to be Trump’s Interior secretary include Jan Brewer, former Arizona governor; Robert E. Grady, a Gryphon Investors partner; Harold G. Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, an oil and gas company; Forrest Lucas president of Lucas Oil Products; Mary Fallin, Oklahoma governor; Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming congresswoman; and Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor.
For Agriculture secretary, Trump is said to be considering Sam Brownback, Kansas governor; Chuck Conner, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives chief executive officer; Sid Miller, Texas agricultural commissioner; Sonny Perdue, former Georgia governor; Dave Heineman, former Nebraska governor; Rick Perry, former Texas governor; Mike McCloskey, a major dairy executive in Indiana; and Chuck Connor, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
When it comes to the EPA, Trump summarized his views in October 2015 in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace,” Trump said. “Every week they come out with new regulations. They’re making it impossible.”
Asked who will protect the environment, Trump answered, “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Chris Trott of Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions said regardless of who Trump appoints to run agencies that manage federal lands here in the Mother Lode, his group hopes to continue to strongly influence Stanislaus National Forest plans and actions.
Priorities for the group include supporting rehabilitation of Rim Fire watersheds and providing input to an upcoming Forest Plan revision. They also want to increase ecological thinning and prescribed fires for forest health, to make watersheds more resilient to disasters including catastrophic wildfires and drought.
Trott said he is confident tree mortality projects and other forest recovery efforts will continue.
“We understand that dealing with tree mortality is one of the top priorities for Region 5 for the 2016-17,” Trott said of the Forest Service. “YSS doesn’t expect potential administration changes in D.C. will change any of this in the short term.”
Nathan Graveline, also with Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, it’s unclear right now exactly how changes in D.C. will influence local administration of federal lands.
“There are going to be changes obviously,” Graveline said. “How those things trickle down to us on the local level is pretty hard to say. We’re going to continue to pursue large scale landscape restoration. That’s our primary goal at YSS and it’s not something that’s going to be accomplished easily.
“I do believe the tree mortality stuff will move forward,” Graveline said. “In terms of our primary priority, large landscape restoration, probably is not going to happen right away but we’re going to work on it. We’re going to try to get funding to assist the Forest Service with that.”
Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions is billed as a coalition of stakeholders, including timber and agriculture industry representatives, who share goals of restoring and maintaining healthy forests and watersheds, fire-safe communities and sustainable local economies using a science-based approach.
Melinda Fleming with Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources & Environment, also known as TuCare, said she hopes a Trump administration will mean more work for healthy forests and will get done faster with less regulation.
“On a federal level, we are confident that the incoming secretaries will have good advisors that can bring them up to speed in a short matter of time,” Fleming said. “Furthermore, in all likelihood we will actually be able to not only continue the work that has been done on Rim Recovery, but perhaps do it more efficiently than during the last administration. We look forward to the potential for the EPA to be under scrutiny and for changes both good for the environment and the economy to be made.”
Biomass, which is on hold for now at Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station outside Chinese Camp, must continue to be part of any plan for national forests, Fleming said.
John Buckley, whose environmental advocacy group CSERC is a member of Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, said he was speaking only as director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.
“It will not just be Trump as president that poses an unprecedented risk for environmental protections to be weakened or completely gutted,” Buckley said. “The GOP platform that was taken to the Republican Party convention proposed to turn national forest lands and the national park system over to private control. The GOP platform also proposed to exempt certain wildlife species from receiving any protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
Buckley also said Trump’s short list of candidates for leading federal agencies shows that Trump leans towards business interests, anti-environmental governors and anti-regulation politicians.
It matters that Trump has twice made wild charges against the Environmental Protection Agency, Buckley said. Trump could potentially sign executive orders that direct federal agencies not to enforce regulations that he or his team don’t like. That could have huge implications for air and water resources.
Buckley recalls that Trump was quoted in May claiming “there is no drought in California.” He claimed there is plenty of water. “They are shoving it out to sea.”
In reality, Buckley says, in general up to 80 percent of river flows in the Central Sierra region are already diverted for agriculture or other human uses, leaving 20 percent to stay in rivers and help keep seawater from contaminating the Delta.
For forests, Trump was quoted in May saying, “Timber jobs have been cut in half since 1990. We are going to bring them up, folks.” To boost timber jobs, Buckley said, Trump intends to remove existing environmental protection measures intended to scale back widespread clearcutting and the pro-logging mentality of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Since Republicans now control both the White House and Congress, extreme positions that were part of the proposed GOP platform could end up being the actual agenda for political action, Buckley said.