Giant Trees are Fire Casualties

November 16, 2020

There’s a lot of heartbreak coming for those that love the natural world.

Los Angeles Times:

Kristen Shive glanced around the blackened forest and started counting. 

She stopped at 13 — the number of giant sequoias she spotted with charred trunks, scorched crowns and broken limbs.

The towering trees had grown on this Sierra Nevada ridge top for well over 500 years. They had lived through many wildfires and droughts. But they could not survive the Castle fire, which swept into the Alder Creek Grove in the early hours of Sept. 13.

One of the monster wildfires birthed by California’s August lightning blitz, the Castle fire burned through portions of roughly 20 giant sequoia groves on the western slopes of the Sierra, the only place on the planet they naturally grow.

Sequoia experts may never know how many of the world’s most massive trees died in the Castle fire, but judging by what they have seen so far, they say the number is certainly in the hundreds — and could easily top 1,000.

“This fire could have put a noticeable dent in the world’s supply of big sequoias,” said Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Castle fire is just the latest in a string of wildfires since 2015 that have fried monarch sequoias — trees that nature designed to not only withstand fire but thrive with it.

They are armored with thick bark. Their high branches are out of reach of most flames. Their cones — no larger than a chicken egg — release seeds when exposed to a burst of heat.

The problem is that the wildfires chewing through sequoia groves these days are not the kind that the long-lived giants evolved with.

A century of fire suppression, the 2012-16 drought and rising temperatures have combined to produce more intense fires that are taking an alarming toll on the copper-hued behemoths.

Shive had been watching the growth of the Castle fire since it started Aug. 19 with a lightning strike on the edge of the Golden Trout Wilderness in the Sequoia National Forest.

By the weekend of Sept. 12, it had spread westward to the doorstep of the 530 acres of the privately owned Alder Creek grove that the Save the Redwoods League purchasedless than a year ago.

“We thought we were in the clear; the fire was on the other side of the ridge,” said Shive, the conservation group’s science director.

But the fire made a major run that Sunday morning, blasting down drainages as 60-mph winds pushed flames into the grove’s southern end.

Shive spent much of the day on the phone, gathering information about fire behavior and studying maps. She knew the Castle fire had burned extremely hot in places and figured they’d lost some monarchs.

But when she drove the grove’s dirt roads a few weeks later, she was shocked by what she saw in some places.

Old sequoias can survive even if just 5% of their crowns remain green and unscorched by a fire’s heat. There was no green on the sequoias Shive counted on the ridge west of Jordan Peak.

Their broccoli tops were roasted. One giant was decapitated, the upper trunk and branches strewn at its base in a tangled heap.

There were more bleak scenes elsewhere. The league estimates that on its property alone, the Castle fire killed at least 80 monarchs, ranging in age from 500 years old to well over 1,000 years old.

“We shouldn’t have lost so many. I think it’s unacceptable,” said Shive, a former fire ecologist with the National Park Service.

In Sequoia Crest, a small vacation-home community developed in the grove in the 1960s, chimneys and foundations are all that remain of about a third of its 104 houses.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Remote-sensing satellite images indicate that much of the league’s Alder Creek land didn’t burn in the Castle fire or experienced light fire that will do some ecological good.

One of those good burns was in the vicinity of the grove’s star, the 3,000-year-old Stagg tree, the fifth-largest giant sequoia on record.

More at the link.

2 Responses to “Giant Trees are Fire Casualties”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    I used to solo backpack in this area. I wanted my ashes to be spread on Kaiser Peak, facing East. Anyone there at sunset, facing East, will understand. It’s a truly special part of the World.

    But, of course, we’re in the fight of our, and our children’s, and our grandchildren’s lives. We’re going to win this fight, and I’ll gladly put my ashes anywhere.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    There’s no indication we’ll win, and every indication we won’t, because STILL, after decades of knowing what we have to do, virtually no one in power in any major country has indicated they’re aware of how serious the crisis is, and how quickly and strongly we need to implement real solutions.

    It’s unlikely at this point, that any significant part of civilization or life on Earth will survive. Even most people most strongly in favor of doing something are mostly in favor of doing inadequate things and are still, astoundingly, against the only solutions that will make a difference. We’ve wasted decades being orderly and polite, trusting authorities like the Obama-Pelosi-Clinton-Biden oligarchic Democrats and rejecting radical solutions and now even those are unlikely to save most of what we love. Platitudes won’t help; comforting optimism and the conviction that the just always prevail are as much an enemy as the insane right wing.

    A massive, comprehensive, emergency Green New Deal is needed to replace fossil fuels with efficiency, wiser lives, and clean safe renewable energy; to transform chemical industrial agriculture with small-scale low-meat organic permaculture; to replace industry with benign, closed loop, biomimicing forms; to reforest the planet.

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