The Slatest

California Wildfires Killed Up to 20% of World’s Giant Sequoias in Last 14 Months

The General Sherman giant sequoia tree stands in the Giant Forest after being unwrapped by US National Park Service (NPS) personnel during the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California on October 22, 2021.
The General Sherman giant sequoia tree stands in the Giant Forest after being unwrapped by US National Park Service (NPS) personnel during the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California on October 22, 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images

Wildfires have killed thousands of giant sequoias this year, which added to last year’s devastating toll means that nearly a fifth of the world’s largest trees have perished over the past 14 months. Somewhere between 2,261 to 3,637 giant sequoias perished in the KNP Complex and Windy fires this year, which represents somewhere between 3 to 5 percent of the total population of the trees, according to new estimates by the National Park Service. That toll is particularly devastating when added to the toll of last year’s Castle fire that killed up to 14 percent of the world’s population of giant sequoias.

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Giant sequoias can live thousands of years and were once considered to be nearly fire-proof, now National Park Service officials are warning there could be a risk of regeneration failure in parts of Sequoia National Park. “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,” said Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “As spectacular as these trees are we really can’t take them for granted. To ensure that they’re around for our kids and grandkids and great grandkids, some action is necessary.”

The majestic sequoias once even thrived with fires. But now a combination of climate change that has increased the intensity of fires and caused hotter droughts as well as fire suppression tactics that have led to unnaturally dense forests has made the trees more vulnerable. “That becomes a recipe for a catastrophic fire that threatens our sequoia groves, the health of our forests and, at the same time, threatens our communities,” Jordan told the New York Times . Six of the seven largest wildfires in California have taken place since 2020.

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