As the drought in California worsens, more than 93% of all known giant sequoias currently exist in areas experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions – the most severe drought classification established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA).
Giant sequoias are among the oldest organisms on earth, frequently peaking at over 250 feet tall and boasting a trunk diameter as wide as 26 feet. But although it is one of the oldest flora on the planet – some of the oldest known examples of the species are well over 3,000 years old according to dendrochronology – human activity and climate change threatens their continued existence. And now, with the worsening drought conditions on the West Coast, virtually all massive trees are now rooted in an area subject to exceptional drought conditions, leaving them exposed to damage from wildfires.
A map recently published by the Save the Redwood League (aka the “League”) – an SF-based nonprofit that is one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations, responsible for the protection and restoration of redwood forests since 1918 – shows how point the situation is serious at the moment. In addition: More than half of all coastal redwood ranges exist under exceptionally drought or “extreme drought” conditions.
“These are potentially dangerous and dry conditions for these iconic forests,” the association’s press release read. “The biggest threat to these forests is the abnormal overgrowth of vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. “
Although forest fires are an essential part of a forest’s life cycle, the speed at which they have occurred in recent years is far from natural. The National Park Service estimates that between 10% and 14.5% of the world’s giant sequoias have died from the Fire at the SQF 2020 Complex in the Sierra Nevada – with the drought conditions this year much worse than those observed last year.
To illustrate the severity of this emergency, the League overlaid the known range of giant sequoias on the drought maps provided by the United States Drought Monitor, illustrating the potential fire dangers faced by these centuries-old trees.
According to the release, 44,799 acres of giant sequoia are currently falling under exceptional drought conditions, while the remaining known acres – about 3,093 – exist under extreme drought conditions.
The state’s redwood groves aren’t doing much better either. Over 2.3 million acres of coastal redwoods are now in exceptional or extreme drought conditions, and an additional 1.9 million acres in “severe drought” or “moderate drought” conditions. As it stands, a whopping 0% of all coastal redwoods are rooted in areas with “unusually dry” conditions – the least severe level of drought described by the US Drought Monitor.
What can you do to help protect these groves from the possibility of turning to ash as the fire season progresses? The League recommends sending an email to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the United States Forest Service, call for immediate action to protect giant sequoias; those who have the financial means to do so are also encouraged to donate to nonprofits that already help restore and protect endangered tree species – like the League, as well as the Sempervirens Fund and Redwoods Park Conservatory.
Now is not a bad time to see how you can reduce your water intake as well.
Related: SF Nonprofit spends $ 24.7 million on easements to permanently protect a strip of redwoods near Mendocino
Sunday wildfires in Big Basin Redwoods State Park kick off another potentially horrific fire season
Image: The Stagg tree is the fifth largest known tree in the world. (Photo by Max Forster, Save the Redwoods League)