California's Giant Sequoias in Danger

Otis Adams

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USDA

Thousands of California's giant sequoias died this year.

Giant sequoias are the largest living things on Earth. Some are nearly 4,000 years old, living naturally along a narrow strip of land in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains at elevations between 3,000 and 8,500 feet. The trees can become so massive that they seem to belong in a Tolkien novel. The largest, named General Sherman, has a 101-foot circumference at its base and is over 270 feet tall. The tallest, though skinnier than General Sherman, reach heights above 340 feet.

Though their reddish-brown bark is usually fire resistant, the Associated Press has reported that wildfires caused by lightning strikes have killed thousands of the rare trees in the last year. Over the past two years, an estimated 20% of the trees have been lost.

The giant sequoias have survived alongside humans due to their good luck of having a brittle lumber that we have little use for. Even so, several of the rare groves were cut down before coming under governmental protection, thanks in part to John Muir's work. Now, they live within national parks like Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest.

While usually safe from humans, climate change has changed this. Recent wildfires have claimed at least 7,500 of the trees with higher estimates topping 10,000 being torched. Conservationists believe that, before the fires, only 75,000 giant sequoias with more than a four-foot diameter existed in the world.

The Los Angeles Times reported in September about some of the lengths firefighters have gone to in order to save some of the massive trees. As wildfires neared, crews rushed to rake away vegetation and use controlled burns to kill off surrounding plants in hopes of creating a vacant buffer around the trees. They also wrapped some trees in a foil blanket designed to protect buildings from fire. This was in addition to scheduled controlled burns in previous years that slowed or stopped advancing wildfires.

Protecting the giant sequoias has become such a great challenge because of climate change, which has both weakened the sequoia's natural adaptations to protect themselves from fires while also making California's fires more frequent, faster, and hotter.

CaliforniaConservationGlobal WarmingEnvironmentTolkien

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Author of Lavatory Reader #1: This Road, now available on Amazon. Otis Adams is an award-winning writer with three books under his belt and two dozen awards boxed up in his closet for his screenplays and short fiction. He writes regularly on Medium.com and can be contacted at pithbooks@gmail.com.

Columbia, MO
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