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Coalition of tribes, government agencies unite to restore California's giant sequoia population

A firefighter protects a sequoia tree as the Washburn Fire burns in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022.
Noah Berger
AP Photo
A firefighter protects a sequoia tree as the Washburn Fire burns in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022.

In the past few years, wildfires have killed tens of thousands of California’s giant sequoias. As a result, the state lost nearlya fifth of its population in just two years according to a 2021 report.

Government agencies, tribes and environmental groups have rallied to save the iconic tree. Last year, a number of these groups formed the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition to share their knowledge and work to better treat forest areas where groves of giant sequoias can be found.

Over the last year, the coalition treated thousands of acres of forest land in and around these groves. They’ve used methods like prescribed fire, cultural burning and forest thinning. Of the 80 giant sequoia groves the group is targeting, they’ve treated 36.

Danielle Garhart, Central Valley District Superintendent for California State Parks, said the impacts of wildfires on these trees in recent years prompted the coalition’s united efforts.

“When all those wildfires came through the last few years, that momentum started building,” she said. “What was really important is that we recognized… they're being destroyed. What are we going to do about that?”

As a group, Garhart said that they’re hoping their combined efforts can make these groves of giant sequoias more resilient to future massive wildfires.

“We're all working together toward this one goal of protection in the groves and really just learning best practices from each other,” she said.

Giant sequoias are famously hardy trees and historically, have proven resilient to drought conditions and bug infestations. Low-to-moderate severity fire is necessary for these trees to thrive and seed as well. But researchers say that recent high-intensity wildfires are too severe for the trees to survive.

Jessica Morse, Deputy Secretary for Forest and Wildland Resilience with California’s Natural Resources Agency, said seeing these historically-sturdy trees fall reflects a demand for better treatment of these forests.

“To then have all these trees lost at once was a wake up call for all of us that we needed urgent action,” said Morse during a press event at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Alongside treatment of these areas, members of the coalition have also worked to plant more giant sequoias in order to help them repopulate.

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