Several public and tribal land management agencies come together with hopes of mitigating the erasure of the sequoias as California wildfires run rampant
SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – As fire once again sweeps through the west coast, a new group has been formed to preserve some of California’s tallest trees. Agencies united by the stewardship of giant sequoias are officially coming together in partnership, under the new Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, to save the trees from deadly wildfires.
Last Monday, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Save the Redwoods League, The Nature Conservancy, and a local conservationist authored the “Preliminary estimates of sequoia mortality in the 2020 Castle Fire” report which estimates that 7,500 to 10,600 large giant sequoias were killed in last year’s Castle Fire. This represents 10% to 14% of large sequoias in the world.
The Castle Fire, part of the larger SQF Complex Fire, burned more than 170,000 acres across Giant Sequoia National Monument, Sequoia National Park, Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest, and private lands. While giant sequoias require periodic low-to-moderate intensity fire to maintain healthy ecology, much of the Castle Fire burned too intensely for even these great survivors.
“The unprecedented number of giant sequoias lost to fire last year serves as a call to action,” Clay Jordan, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Superintendent said. “We know that climate change is increasing the length and severity of fire seasons due to hotter temperatures and drought. To combat these emerging threats to our forests, we must come together across agencies. Actions that are good for protecting our forests are also good for protecting our communities.”
Although some of California’s Giant Sequoia trees have stood for a thousand years or more and are adapted to withstand frequent low and mixed severity fires, nothing compared to the intensity experienced in the Castle Fire. Many of the large mature trees, those with trunk diameters of 4 feet or more, have been killed.
A history of fire suppression and hotter droughts driven by climate change has resulted in denser forests with extraordinary levels of fuel loading. These conditions have changed how wildfire burns in the southern Sierra Nevada, resulting in large areas of high severity fire effects and massive fire events.
“We regret the loss of our old-growth giant sequoia trees that were killed in the Castle Fire,” said Jim Kral, Mountain Home State Forest manager, and forester from Cal Fire’s Tulare County Unit. “However, we were triumphant in protecting the majority of the Mountain Home Grove through our long-term planning and commitment to actively managing the forest. Cal Fire looks forward to working with our partners in applying the lessons learned from the Castle Fire to improve the future management of these majestic groves in the face of a changing climate and more intense wildfires.”
About the coalition
The Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition has been formed with an eye toward the future, to better enable land managers to protect the remaining giant sequoias. It is comprised of all public and Tribal land management agencies in stewardship of giant sequoias with the support of affiliate partners including the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Save the Redwoods League, Sequoia Parks Conservancy, Stanislaus National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument Association.
The goals of the coalition are to increase wildfire resilience in our forests and communities; address long term planning for climate change through research and monitoring; increase pace and scale of treatments to reduce destructive forest fuels through prescribed burning and restorative thinning; and increase efficiency through partnerships aimed at policy changes that allow for more swift action.
“We are looking forward to joining forces in this important work with all sequoia land managers,” expressed Teresa Benson, Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument Supervisor, “In times of unparalleled threats to the lands we protect, we must take extraordinary steps, coming together as a larger community and united by our conservation goals. Everything we do is critical to sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”
The members of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition are:
- National Park Service, represented by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Yosemite National Park
- United States Forest Service, represented by Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument, Sierra National Forest, and Tahoe National Forest
- Bureau of Land Management, represented by Case Mountain Extensive Recreation Management Area
- Tule River Indian Tribe, stewards of Black Mountain Grove
- State of California, represented by Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest
- University of California, Berkeley, stewards of Whitaker’s Research Forest
- Tulare County, stewards of Balch Park
Coalition members will be hosting public and media events over the coming months to raise awareness and public knowledge about sequoia health and research, ongoing projects, the effects of recent fires, and more. Information about these events will be released as plans are finalized.
“As Native People, we have a spiritual and cultural connection with the land. For thousands of years, these trees have provided healing, shelter, and warmth to our people,” William Garfield, Chairman of the Tule River Tribal Council, said. “It is our duty to do everything in our power to make sure that they are protected, so we can pass them on to our future generations as they were passed down to us.”
For the full report, more information, and resources about emerging threats to giant sequoias, visit www.nps.gov/seki/learn/gslc.htm.
This year’s fire season has the potential to be the worst on record. There are a number of fires happening throughout the state, with a lot of them occurring in the Sierra Nevadas. One of the biggest fires of the year so far has been the Dixie Fire in Lassen National Forest which began on July 13, has burned nearly 250,000 acres and is 35% contained. The Beckworth Complex fire in Plumas National Forest began on July 3, has burned over 106,000 acres and is 98% contained. The Dexter Fire in Inyo National Forest began on July 12, has burned nearly 3,000 acres and was just contained 100%.
Over the weekend the National Park Service announced there were heavy thunderstorms that ignited five different fires collectively called the “Deer Fire” in the Sequoia National Park. It is located in Mineral King Valley, south side of the East Fork, near Deer Creek. The Park is using a confine and contain suppression strategy utilizing natural rock features, existing trails, hand line construction and other natural barriers as containment lines. By using this method fire managers are reducing exposure to firefighters and minimizing suppression impacts in the wilderness.