In a legal dispute that could impact the future of sequoia trees in California’s National Parks, several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit to halt the National Park Service’s massive tree replanting initiative. The project aims to replant six groves of giant sequoias that were ravaged by wildfires, with tens of thousands of seedlings being planted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The groups argue that the project is inappropriate because the burned areas are designated as “wilderness,” where human intervention is prohibited. They assert that tree replanting is unnecessary for the groves to regenerate naturally.
Chad Hanson, a research ecologist and director of the John Muir Project, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit, stated, “Wilderness is for natural processes and natural succession. It’s not supposed to be a managed landscape for tree plantations.”
The legal action, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, was added to an existing suit challenging the park service’s forestry work in wilderness areas of the national parks, including tree thinning and burning to reduce wildfire risk.
The need for such measures arose after wildfires in 2020 and 2021 caused unprecedented damage to sequoia trees, killing up to 19% of the world’s mature sequoias. While sequoias are adapted to fire, climate change and misguided forestry practices have exacerbated the threat to these ancient trees.
To ensure the survival of the sequoias, the park service developed a plan to replant more than 1,200 acres of sequoia forest using mule trains and potentially helicopters to transport seedlings. The effort includes introducing genetic diversity to increase resilience.
Approximately 1,000 acres have already been replanted, with the work set to continue in the coming years. Park officials argue that these efforts are necessary, responsible, and scientifically sound.
Critics, including the litigants in the lawsuit, contend that manipulating wilderness areas is inappropriate and unnecessary, as signs of natural regeneration are already visible in the burned sequoia forests. They challenge the park service’s assessments and argue that the fires have been beneficial to the groves.