(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Orick, California — On Aug. 11, 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited California’s Redwood National and State Parks as part of the Biden Administrations America the Beautiful initiative. Haaland addressed members of the press and met with officials from the National Park Service (NPS) and California Department of Parks and Recreation (California State Parks), alongside the district’s own Congressman Jared Huffman (D), White House Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Brenda Mallory, various community stakeholders and leaders from the local Yurok Tribe. Before she spoke, Haaland was gifted an elaborate necklace by the Yurok Tribal Government — a gesture that moved America’s first-ever Native American presidential Cabinet member to tears.
Haaland’s sojourn to the area was part of a multi-state tour; this meeting focused on a rollout of conservation efforts aimed at Redwood National and State Parks — an adjoining complex of state and national parks encompassing roughly 40 miles of pristine California old-growth coastline. The event was hosted at a site used by Redwoods Rising, which is a partnership between Save the Redwoods League and Redwood National and State Parks.
The Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative was formed following President Joe Biden’s signing of Executive Order 14008, a.k.a. Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. America the Beautiful forges a working alliance between the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI/Interior), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. The aim is to “develop initial recommendations on how to advance an inclusive and collaborative conservation vision,” with Interior’s webpage on the initiative warning, “Our communities deserve fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy and dependable economies, and a livable planet, but right now inaction on climate change is putting everything at risk.”
On the tour, Haaland highlighted the initiative and its goals throughout her visits to Washington and Wyoming, wrapping up in northern California’s Humboldt County. She said that “President Biden has issued a call-to-action” calling for these “sister agencies” to “work together to conserve, connect and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 for the sake of our economy, our health and our wellbeing.”
Haaland and Mallory praised local on-the-ground collaborations, with the Interior’s official press release explaining, “The partnership aims to thin thousands of acres of overstocked, logged over lands within the parks to accelerate old-growth characteristics the parks are known for,” continuing, “The effort will also remove miles of former logging roads and stream crossings that affect local species like salmon and steelhead.”
“Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and every community in America,” Haaland asserted, with Chairwoman Mallory adding, “This historic conservation goal drives us to think about ways we can be better stewards of our natural resources in order to confront the climate crisis and threats like extreme heat, wildfires and floods.” Mallory elaborated further adding, “Local partnerships like the ones that are conserving California’s redwoods are instrumental to this effort, improving ecosystem health and resilience, supporting local economies, and expanding access to the outdoors for all.”
But before Haaland took to the podium to address the small handful of reporters present, the Yurok Tribe’s Chairman Joseph L. James put forth some heart-felt words to the Secretary and sang a traditional song too. When Rep. Huffman took to the podium he commenced by saying, “Chairman James, that’s a tough act to follow.” After James’ sang his song, he addressed Secretary Haaland directly:
With love and respect Madam Secretary, we know how hard your job is, Creator answered our prayers, the work that you’ve got to do across the United States, across Indian Country. We’re here to support you and we stand behind you. Thank you for your leadership. Before I hand it off, we do have a gift that we wanted to give you on behalf of the Yurok Tribal Government, its people and its citizens.
The full transcript of the segments featuring Sec. Haaland and Chairman James at the press conference in Redwood National and State Parks reads as follows:
Sam Hodder, President, Save the Redwoods League: I want to introduce and invite Chairman Joe James of the Yurok to come and speak. Thank you Chairman.
Chairman Joseph L. James: Before we get started, I would like my team to come up here and join me on the side here. Again, it’s an honor and a privilege Madam Secretary. We believe in balance, we believe in prayer, we believe in ceremony, we believe the Creator puts us here for a reason; everything we did today with the tour, the first thing that came to me was balance of the work that we were doing. You could see the partners, the work that we’re doing, the Park Service, State Parks, everybody involved, it’s an honor and a privilege today to have you here at Yurok country and to work hand-in-hand also with our Congressman Huffman. Thank you for your leadership.
Again, as indigenous people, I also want to thank the State Park’s Victor [Bjelajac], I want to acknowledge you brother; all the indigenous people in uniform that are also working with the State Parks, everything we are doing here as a whole, as a group, as a one. And I think that’s what you got to see here Madam Secretary is the great work that we are doing here on the North Coast, the beautiful land that we live in — Yurok country — we’re all pulling on the same string for the love of the Creator and Mother Earth, that she provides for us. But, before I hand the mic off, I want to sing a song. (sings song)
With love and respect Madam Secretary, we know how hard your job is, Creator answered our prayers, the work that you’ve got to do across the United States, across Indian Country. We’re here to support you and we stand behind you. Thank you for your leadership. Before I hand it off, we do have a gift that we wanted to give you on behalf of the Yurok Tribal Government, its people and its citizens. (Yurok give necklace to Haaland)
Secretary Deb Haaland: (speaking in Keres language) Guw’aadzi haupa. (Greetings.) (speaking more Keres) I’m so honored to be here Chairman James. Thank you for having me and it’s hard not to look around, right? It’s hard not to feel like you want to walk into the forest and not come back; it’s just such a beautiful place. And I appreciate the Tribe’s willingness to work with the state and the federal government to make sure that we are approaching things in the right way. And I just appreciate all of you being here today with us.
[I] also want to recognize all of the career staff who are here, the National Park Service and the State Parks, thank you for choosing this as your career path (tearfully). I am so sorry. I feel that, first of all, the tribes who have been here for millennia and have cared about this land — the original stewards of this land — I feel very grateful that those of you who are here with your uniforms on have made a commitment to also be stewards of this land, and know that we’re so grateful for the work that you do and we couldn’t do this without any of you. So, thank you very much.
I also would like to thank Chair Mallory. She has travelled with me these last few days. You know, whenever we talk about, or we mention, the [Council on] Environmental Quality, I want to say environmental equality. For some reason that just comes out of my mouth, and in a way that seems also true right, that we want everyone to have equal access to the beauty and the goodness that comes from our natural resources and the lands that all of us love so much. So, I’m very grateful to you Brenda for being here.
And also, yes, my good friend, Chairman, Congressman Huffman. We were buddies on the Natural Resources Committee and I always felt so proud that he was ready and willing to speak up very vigorously for our oceans and our lands and thank you for your mentorship while I was in Congress.
Before we begin, or before I go into my remarks I just want to reflect on the wildfires that are having a devastating impact on the communities here in Northern California, and my heart goes out to the residents of Greenville and to all of those other towns that have lost homes [and] businesses to the Dixie Fire and other fires that are burning across the West. But we know that it’s no longer “fire season” but “fire years.” This is a natural occurrence now because of climate change — hotter drier weather — our firefighters in harm’s way every time we turn around, and so, we’ll do our best.
I know that the frequency of fires in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities each year. To make matters even more difficult, persistent drought conditions in the West [have] drained water supplies, impacted farmers, ranchers, fish and wildlife in Tribal and non-Tribal communities alike. With so little room for error we must remain steadfast in our commitment to wildland fire preparedness, mitigation and resilience. At the Department of the Interior, we’re doing everything we can to work with states, tribes and local governments to ease the pain of these communities and support the workforce.
I want to commend the dedicated firefighters, scientists, first responders and professionals who work every day to protect our lands and communities. And I am not the only one. President Biden, Vice President Harris, and governors from across West — including right here in California — have all joined together to voice their support for the brave men and women on the frontlines and they’ve united in calling for giving them more tools, more training, to protect our families our lands and our planet from the increasing threat of fire.
I am proud of the steps we’re taking at the Interior to hire more firefighters and convert more than 500 of our seasonal firefighters into permanent career positions this year. This will also support more fuels management — work to be accomplished when fires aren’t burning. We’re also working to increase frontline firefighters’ pay in response to the President’s call to invest in the wildland fire workforce. This includes action to insure that no federal firefighter will make less that 15 dollars an hour this year.
The bipartisan infrastructure deal includes nearly $1.5 billion for Interior’s wildland fire management programs so that we can improve firefighter pay, reduce hazardous fuels on the landscape and restore lands after the fires take place. The deal also makes historic investments to restore and leverage nature-based infrastructure to protect communities and our environment.
At Interior we know that nature is essential to the health, the wellbeing and the prosperity of every family and every community in America. From the bounty of the Great Plains to vast coastal forests like we are [in] right now, our lands and waters define who we are, and who we are as a nation, and who we actually want to be. Our communities deserve fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy and dependable economies and of course, a livable planet.
Since the first days of his administration, President Biden has been committed to an all-of-government approach to confronting climate change, conserving our public lands and waters and creating thousands of good paying jobs in the process. As part of that effort, President Biden has issued a call-to-action that we work together to conserve, connect and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 for the sake of our economy, our health and our wellbeing.
Earlier this year the Interior Department and our sister agencies outlined the America the Beautiful initiative, which is a vision for a collaborative, inclusive and locally-led effort toward conservation — and it’s partnerships like Redwoods Rising that form the backbone of this crucial effort. The ongoing work between Redwood National and State Parks and Save the Redwoods League to thin thousands of acres of overstocked logged overlands within the parks is essential to conserving and restoring these towering forests.
This ongoing work also seeks to ensure that surrounding wildlife have healthy ecosystems for their own survival by removing miles of former logging roads and stream crossings that affect salmon and steelhead. These efforts will enhance fish habitats — a win-win for the forests, the fish and all of those who enjoy this beautiful landscape. The project embraces the principals of resiliency and landscape connectivity. This work accelerates restoration and prepares park landscapes for the impacts of drought, fire, disease, invasive species and climate change — all key components of this administration’s commitment to protecting our natural resources and landscapes.
This collaborative approach to increase old-growth forest connectivity is a model to be followed. By engaging with tribes, local stakeholders, groups and community members, this partnership truly represents the strength of our partnerships in our efforts to protect our lands and waters. I am so proud of of the efforts that the National Park Service and our partners are pursuing to advance a vision of preservation that builds on the nation’s best conservation traditions, creates jobs and supports healthy communities.
Thank you again so much for having me, and we’re happy to try and answer any questions that you might have.
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