CALIFORNIA

In late September, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rejected a challenge to the newly designated Giant Sequoia National Monument in the southern Sierra Nevada. The monument protects 330,000 acres of forest ecosystem, including nearly half of the world's remaining giant sequoia groves.

Timber and off-highway vehicle groups, as well as Tulare County, where Giant Sequoia is located, filed suit against the monument, designated in April 2000 by former President Bill Clinton under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the act, and said Clinton exceeded his authority by designating too large an area. The act requires delineating the least possible area to protect the resource.

Eric Coyne, a spokesperson for Tulare County, says the Sequoia groves cover only a few thousand acres. "We could understand designating even 20,000 acres, which would leave a huge buffer (around the trees)," says Coyne, "but 330,000 is ridiculous." The court found no evidence that Clinton had violated the law by including that much land.

Michael Sherwood, an attorney for Earthjustice, which intervened in the case, says the ruling is good news for all the Clinton-designated monuments, several of which are under fire in two similar, pending lawsuits. The Sequoia ruling, he says, sets a legal precedent that other lawyers and judges can cite.

According to Sherwood, the ruling continues an historic trend: none of the six previous challenges to the Antiquities Act were successful.