KNP Complex, Windy fires kill up to 5% of world’s giant sequoias

National Park Service announces between 3% and 5% of large giant sequoias were killed or dying because of KNP Complex and Windy fires this year

SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – Almost 200,000 acres of forest fires in the Sierra Nevada mountains this year, have claimed between 3% and 5% of the worlds large giant sequoia population.

The National Park Service announced the devastating news last Friday, Nov. 19. They stated that the KNP Complex Fire and Windy Fire killed or severely burned between 2,261 and 3,637 giant sequoias that are four feet in diameter. The severely burned sequoias are expected to die within the next three to five years.

These 2021 losses follow the wake of 2020’s highly destructive Castle Fire in the same region, which resulted in the mortality of 10% to 14% of the world’s native population of large giant sequoias. Significant concerns for the giant sequoias has rightfully grown in light of last year’s destruction.

“The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes,” Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks superintendent Clay Jordan said. “As we navigate the complex process of restoring access to the parks, we will continue to work diligently with our partners in the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition to become ever-better stewards of these incredibly special places, despite the enormous challenges we face.”

This assessment of impacts to giant sequoias comes from a report compiled by a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team and are drawn from analysis conducted by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. These giant sequoia groves are located across lands administered by Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Forest, Tule River Tribe, UC Berkeley and Save the Redwoods League, all partners in the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, established earlier this year to collaborate on strategies to protect these threatened trees.

These estimates include 1,330 to 2,380 trees within the KNP Complex footprint and 931 to 1,257 trees within the Windy Fire footprint. In total, 27 giant sequoia groves fall fully or partially within the perimeters of the fires. These estimates were calculated by comparing pre- and post-fire satellite imagery classified by fire severity, aerial reconnaissance, and on-the-ground assessments where possible.

The National Park Services stated that while giant sequoias require periodic low-to-moderate intensity fire to maintain healthy ecology, a history of fire suppression across the American West has resulted in denser forests with high levels of fuel loading. In combination with hotter droughts driven by climate change, 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.

Some key areas, such as the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, experienced reduced fire severity, due in large part to a history of prescribed burning. As this year’s wildfires approached sequoia groves, firefighters deployed new tactics that reduced losses to these trees from high severity fire. Many areas within the fire footprints burned at low to moderate severity, and some areas did not burn at all.

To view the executive summary of the impacts of the 2021 fire season on giant sequoias, read the full report of these findings as extracted from the response plan, or find more information and resources about emerging threats to giant sequoias, visit www.nps.gov/seki/learn/gslc.htm. A media kit with contacts for all Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition partners, photo galleries, fact sheets, and more is also provided on this site.

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