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Single wildfire destroys at least 10% of the world’s giant sequoias, report suggests

CNN – A single wildfire that swept through California’s Sequoia National Forest last summer destroyed 10 to 14% of the world’s giant sequoia trees, a new draft report from the National Park Service indicates.

The report, which has not yet been made publicly available, used satellite images to show the shocking impact the Castle Fire had on the giant trees, in what experts call an unprecedented mortality event caused by a combination of climate change-driven drought and fire suppression efforts, CNN reported.

“The loss of 7,500 to 10,600 large giant sequoias, many of which are likely thousands of years old, is devastating,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Christy Brigham, chief of Resources Management and Science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told CNN. “These trees are irreplaceable in our lifetimes.”

The report has not been peer reviewed yet but is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Giant sequoias only grow in the western slop of the Sierra Nevada and can reach as high as 300 feet tall. Their cones release seeds when exposed to fire, but those fires have historically burned naturally at lower temperatures, killing small trees and thinning the forest.

Well intended climate change policies actually made the fires more brutal. Fire suppression efforts allowed the forest to become more dense, which when combined with a yearslong drought, has allowed many of those trees to die out, creating more fuels that burned hotter and more intensely than in previous fires.

“My first reaction was to cry,” said Brigham. “My second reaction was to work with colleagues to submit grant proposals to fund additional forest treatments, prioritize groves for treatment, and work with other scientists and experts to increase the pace and scale of forest treatments to protect the remaining old-growth sequoias.”

A lightning storm in August brought about the Castle Fire, which spread and joined other fires to form the 174,000 acre Sequoia Lightning Complex Fire. Nine months later, scientist discovered a single sequoia still smoldering.

Despite the destruction, the fire did some good in other areas of the forest, Brigham said.

“In areas that burned at low and moderate severity, fuels have been reduced, sequoia cones have been opened and seeds released, and microsites for sequoia seedings have been created,” Brigham said, adding that forests need to be returned to a state where they can withstand a wildfire without suffering these catastrophic losses.

“A sequoia seeding is not the same as a 2,000-year-old tree,” she said.

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