Lightning-caused wildfires have brought devastation the world’s giant sequoias over the past two fire seasons in California, reaching losses of approximately 20 percent of the world’s largest tree.
Following the Castle Fire in 2020 and the recent Windy and KNP Complex fires in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, officials have estimated that 7,500 to 10,400 giant sequoias burned over the past 15 months. That accounts for roughly 13 to 19 percent of the world’s sequoias greater than 4 feet in diameter. The revelation illustrates the devastating impact of recent California wildfires on the wilderness.
Giant sequoia trees live exclusively in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, typically in the middle of California. These trees can grow taller than 300 feet and wider than 30 feet, a can live to 3,000 years old. Sequoias actually use wildfire to reproduce, with embers spreading their seedlings and thinning larger trees to allow sunlight to hit the smaller trees. But with recent wildfires burning at a higher intensity than ever seen by modern humans, the trees are seeing long-lasting harm.
â€œThe sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes,â€ said Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, to the Associated Press. â€œAs spectacular as these trees are we really canâ€™t take them for granted. To ensure that theyâ€™re around for our kids and grandkids and great grandkids, some action is necessary.â€
Recent years of wildfires in California have been historic, with 2020 and 2021 burning more than has been ever seen in the state’s history. As fires burned through the sequoia groves, firefighters took the unprecedented approach of wrapping the massive tree trunks with fire retardant covers. The strategy was somewhat successful, saving famous trees like General Sherman.
The news of sequoia loss is unfortunate, but not all the news from the wildfires in negative. According to Save the Redwoods League, much of the wildfires in the 27 groves burned at a low-intensity heat, allowing the trees to reproduce en-masse. Unfortunately for people alive today, we will never see the trees that will take centuries to grow to the giants they eventually become.