Boys Camp jeopardized by new monument

Published August 1, 2000

“Our right to have a voice and take part in the decision making process is being completely circumvented,” despaired Rocky Leitzell, executive director of the R.M. Pyles Boys Camp, when asked to comment on the Clinton-Gore administration’s new Sequoia National Monument, within which the camp is located.

“Providing protection for the Pyles Camp needs to be a prime consideration in the development of the operational guidelines [of the Monument], yet we haven’t been given an opportunity to participate.”

On April 15, President Clinton used the Antiquities Act to declare more than 300,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest a National Monument, making it off-limits to logging, recreational uses, and development.

Opponents note that although Clinton claimed to be “protecting the giant sequoias,” only 19,000 acres of the 300,000-plus acres contain sequoia groves. Moreover, catastrophic fire–not timber harvesting–is the major risk the sequoias face. Many of the giant trees are already protected from logging.

For more than 50 years, the Pyles camp has leased 35 acres under a special use permit in the Sequoia National Forest to run a camp for disadvantaged boys from southern and central California.

Camp officials are concerned that the new monument’s management plan and its guidelines will not include language to protect existing permit users. They are asking the federal government to be allowed as stakeholders to participate in developing management plans.

In 1996, when the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was designated, Clinton’s proclamation stated that existing permit holders would not be affected. Later, public access to the area was reduced, roads were closed, and some special use permits were not renewed. Private landowners were forced to become “willing sellers.”

Noted Leitzell, “We are concerned that in reaching [his] goal [little consideration was given to] giving protection to such a worthwhile and compatible program such as the camp.”

Over 40 years, more than 21,000 boys have attended R.M Pyles Camp, including students from Long Beach which “had the privilege of sending disadvantaged boys who are at great risk of failing in society,” according to Dr. Carl Cohn, superintendent of schools for Long Beach Unified School District. “We have witnessed numerous boys who have had their lives positively affected.” The camp teaches environmental stewardship and personal responsibility. Many of its attendees are now doctors, lawyers, scientists, law enforcement officials, and community leaders.