Once thought to be basically immortal, sequoias are now dying in droves

(Quote from Kyle Dickman’s article in Outside)

firefighter giant sequoia Washburn Fire Yosemite National Park
A firefighter in Yosemite National Park scrapes material away from a giant sequoia during the Washburn Fire in July 2022. NPS photo by Garrett Dickman.

Kyle Dickman has written a must-read article for Outside magazine about how the largest trees on Earth which can live for more than 3,000 years, are being increasingly affected in recent years by fire. It was published this week at the magazine and covers how  management of the giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park and other areas in the Sierras has affected the vulnerability of the huge mature specimens in the groves.

Mr. Dickman is a former member of the Tahoe Interagency Hotshot Crew and spent five seasons fighting fires. He wrote the book “On the Burning Edge: A fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It“, which is about the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the fire where all but one of them died in 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The article frequently mentions Mr. Dickman’s brother, Garrett, who is the Forest Ecologist at Yosemite and has been heavily involved in managing and attempting to save the giant sequoias. The piece is extremely well written. You can read the entire article at Outside.

Below are a few excerpts:

“What nature’s doing isn’t natural,”  [said Joe Suarez, the Arrowhead Hotshots superintendent]

Garrett [Dickman] and Christy Brigham, the director of science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, are standing in front of an outhouse that firefighters saved from the Castle Fire, sitting in the patchy shade of a 2,000-year-old dead tree that they did not. Firefighters protect life and property before all else—even holes to shit in, so long as they have walls around them. Listening to the two compare notes on their jobs makes clear that the fate of giant sequoias is almost entirely in the hands of a few middle managers, working at a few select parks, who navigate arcane environmental laws and a financing system cobbled together with public grants. If sequoia death is a product of American gridlock, sequoia survival will happen because of the tenacity of a few individuals.

The current drought is more intense than any experienced in California in 1,200 years.

“These next couple of years could be bad in ways we haven’t experienced yet,” Garrett says. The Park Service knows what’s coming. After 60 years trying to walk backward by managing their lands to be what conservationist Starker Leopold, who devised the agency’s guiding philosophy from the late 1960s until 2021, called “vignettes of primitive America,” the Park Service has changed course to officially recognize that park managers must intervene in ways considered antithetical to their mission two years earlier. The new policy asks the public to open its mind to everything from mechanical thinning to very limited logging. “We saw how it goes when you don’t do anything,” Christy says. “It goes terribly. It goes thousands of 2,000 year old trees burned up in an instant.”

“We don’t get to have nice things anymore,” Garrett says.”

“The Clean Water Act. The National Environmental Policy Act. The National Historic Preservation Act. The Threatened and Endangered Species Act. Fantastic laws all of them,” Christy says. “But they were built at a time when the main threat was people doing bad things—logging, mining. Now the main threat is inaction. Bureaucracy is slow. Wildfire is fast. And bureaucracy needs to get a hell of a lot faster if we want to persist and not lose everything we’ve got left.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

10 thoughts on “Once thought to be basically immortal, sequoias are now dying in droves”

  1. Years ago I read where it was discovered that the sequoias needed raging fires tall enough to reach the sequoias seeds in order for them to reproduce. Years later they are still preventing that from happening. Is anything proactive being done to help the trees reproduce?
    In the meantime, why don’t you have another kid, build another house or perhaps even a walmart & pave a parking lot near the park.

  2. We are so far off… our forests need the care of the indigenous tribes who were caring for the trees and wildlife and kept them healthy until know-better white racists killed most of them and took over the land. Recall who wiped out millions of bison for their tongues and left them lying on the plains to rot? Not the people who had ruled this country for thousands of years before whites showed up. Time to admit our incompetence and beg them for help if any are still living.

  3. A retired Forest service friend of mine told me that we were loving our Forrest to death. He told me (15 years ago) that we would eventually have mega Forrest fires. Well Surprise! Surprise!

  4. You must work w Andy.
    More prescibed burns and forest cleanup, ie, selective logging, brush reduction projects, are needed to improve forest health.
    Time to ramp it up.

  5. “Logging and mining” are bad things, says Christy Brigham. Hmmm?
    I wonder if she lives in a home framed with lumber? Everything she uses in her daily life are sourced from mining of one thing or another that we all NEED. The vehicle she drives is made of………..well, you get the picture.
    I’m getting sick and tired of these hypocrites. They profess to know so much, yet they really know very little about what makes the World go around.
    NEPA and the T&E Species Act were “written without compromise” as one highly respected leader was once quoted.
    Even the National Forest Management Act included such vague terms as “…..a viable population level” when referencing wildlife. Ever since, wildlife biologists everywhere have their own interpretation of what “viable” means in terms of protection acreage. Just look at the so-called “President’s Plan” of 1994 where 85% of wood harvesting was eliminated in the PNW due to the “thought of protecting the spotted owl.”
    Christy, open your mind to the possibility that you use products from everything you dislike about logging and mining, unless of course, you are ok with it as long as it comes from another country.

  6. A couple of years ago my wife and I were at a family get-together where I was asked why all of the fires were occurring. I answered that a large part of it is that we have simply loved our wild lands near to death.


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