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Bipartisan bid to save California sequoias launched in Congress

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said prior to recent years, the last time a giant sequoia was destroyed by wildfire was in 1297.

(CN) — Native to California, giant sequoia trees can live for thousands of years. And for thousands of years the trees have survived wildfires. In fact, they're naturally fire resistant. But they're no match for the kinds of wildfires drought and climate change have brought to the Golden State, and nearly a fifth of the world’s giant sequoias perished in wildfires in recent years.

In an effort to save the majestic trees, a bipartisan group of congressmen led by Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, on Thursday introduced the Save Our Sequoias Act.

"You know, prior to three years ago the only historical record we had of a fire destroying a giant sequoia was in 1297, but in the last three years, almost 20% of the giant sequoias have been destroyed by fires,” McCarthy said at a press conference to introduce the bill. "If we do nothing, we can lose them all. We must act now to ensure that we save them for future generations.”

The act would give federal land managers additional tools and resources to help save the giant sequoias from wildfire, insects and drought by prioritizing groves at highest risk and declaring an emergency to streamline and expedite environmental reviews of future efforts to protect the trees.

The bill would also allow the National Park Foundation and National Forest Foundation to solicit private donations to help save the iconic trees, and establish reforestation efforts in areas destroyed by recent wildfires.

"The Save our Sequoias Act includes real reforms to forest management and equips our federal land managers with the tools and resources they need to save these trees from the threat of wildfire. I’m proud to be a part of this bipartisan effort to save our Sequoias for future generations,” said Congressman David Valadao, a Republican from Hanford, in a statement.

Lawmakers signing on to the bill include House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas, Representatives Scott Peters, Jim Costa and Jimmy Panetta, all Democrats from California, Republican Tom McClintock of California and 23 others.

The conservation group The Nature Conservancy applauded the bill.

“Giant sequoias are designed to live with fire, just not the kind of fires we are seeing now. The Nature Conservancy strongly supports active interventions that are science-based and designed to restore ecological integrity in the areas in and around groves so that when wildfires do come, they are once again restorative rather than destructive,” said Kameran Onley, director of North American policy and government relations, in a statement.

More than 90 other nonprofits, local governments and politicians and entities also support the bill. But more than 80 others signed a letter opposing the bill, claiming it will actually undo environmental protections and allow for more logging in already imperiled forests.

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