Last year, the KNP Complex Fire burning in Sequoia National Park drew global attention as the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, was wrapped in tinfoil-like material in order to repel the flames from the fire. Hundreds of firefighters labored for weeks trying to save giant redwood trees. Despite these efforts, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that wildfires killed 13% to 19% of the world’s giant sequoias in 2020 and 2021.
This past July, the Washburn Fire burned through part of Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove and the giant sequoias there were surrounded by automated sprinklers trying to shelter them from the flames.
For a century, government agencies have worked to extinguish all natural wildfires and prohibited Native people in the region from lighting the fires they traditionally used to manage their lands. As a result, forests have grown far thicker with trees that can fuel fires. The Sierras are now home to more than three times as many trees as when they were managed by indigenous communities. But more than 100 million of those trees had died by 2016 because of drought.
Add to this massive amount of kindling the effects of climate change – a hotter and drier environment – and there is the perfect storm for megafires among the giant sequoias.
There is federal legislation pending that would provide resources for prescribed burning and other forms of active forest management. It is controversial. It has attracted support from the Nature Conservancy, the Save The Redwoods League, and others, but also opposition from more than 80 environmental groups.
What is not controversial is that the Giant Sequoias are in the midst of a crisis and urgent action is needed.
Photo, posted December 10, 2014, courtesy of Laura Camp via Flickr.