The plight of the giant sequoias captures the wildfire crisis ravaging the West. Though the massive trees have coexisted with fire for centuries, the higher-severity fires in recent years have killed up to 10,000 sequoias, or approximately a fifth of the species.
Last summer General Sherman—the world’s largest tree—in Sequoia National Park was one of the numerous giant sequoias wrapped in protective aluminum foil in a frantic effort to protect the tree as a lightning-caused wildfire swept through the area. Though sequoias rely on disturbances such as fire to regenerate, this demonstrates how decades of fire suppression and fuel buildup has led to catastrophic wildfires destructive enough to threaten even the world’s largest tree.
The good news is that the fate of the giant sequoias can be changed. Proactive forest management has proven a successful way to reduce wildfire risk and intensity. Earlier this month, the Washburn Fire threatened the famous giant sequoias of Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove. The grove is a national treasure, with some of the trees being more than 2,000 years old, losing it would be a tragedy. Yet as the Washburn Fire burned through, the grove survived.
What spared the Mariposa Grove? Fuel reduction treatments. As Yosemite forest ecologist and firefighter Garrett Dickman explained, “the really obvious takeaway is we’ve been preparing for this fire for 50 years. And that preparation is saving these trees. We haven’t had to wrap trees or really put firefighters at tremendous risk. They’ve been able to engage safely because those fuel reduction treatments have proven to be so effective.”