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“This is unprecedented to see so many of these large old-growth trees dead, and I think it’s a travesty,” Scott Stephens, fire scientist at UC Berkeley, told NPR. “This is pure disaster.”
Why This Matters: Climate change has increased both the likelihood and intensity of extreme fires, exacerbating drought and drying out vegetation. The imminent threat to giant sequoia trees — a species that has naturally adapted to fire over millennia and uses its heat to release seeds — indicates just how extreme these fires are. But, as the LA Times writes, “that ecological contract has been betrayed.” The sequoias only grow in a few mountainous California groves, so like an endangered species, losing even a few trees or a slice of habitat is a significant loss.
Seedlings from the Ashes
The grove where giant sequoia General Sherman grows has been doing prescribed burns longer than most, so that vegetation that might fuel an oncoming fire is cleared. In centuries past, these kinds of lower-intensity fires were set by Native American tribes in the area, but stopped when white settlers forced them off the land and suppressed burns.
Now, as researchers observe the areas burned by recent fires, those swept with lower-intensity fire have hundreds of seedlings growing, while groves hit with more intense flames only have a handful. Land managers considering doing their own planting must think hundreds of years into the trees’ futures.
“That is one of the gifts of giant sequoias — is that they force us to think in deep time,” Christy Brigham, head of resource management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told NPR. “It forces us to confront the challenge of climate change.”
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Earlier this year, Ecuador’s new President Guillermo Lasso issued decrees to expand oil and mining projects in the Amazon. Indigenous communities from the country’s rainforest are now suing the government in an effort to stop these projects, calling them a “policy of death,” according to reporting by Reuters. Community […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor As wildfires and deforestation grip the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous communities are urging world governments to pledge to protect 80% of the forest by 2025. The groups launched their campaign at a biodiversity conference in France, where experts from around the world are laying the groundwork for the UN’s delayed […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new assessment found that at least 30% of the world’s 60,000 tree species are nearing extinction in the wild. The number of tree species threatened— 17,500— is twice that of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined. Why this Matters: Trees are crucial to maintaining the earth’s ecosystems. Trees not […]
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