Story at a glance
- An estimated 2,261 to 3,637 giant sequoias were killed by large wildfires this year.
- That accounts for 3 to 5 percent of the Earth’s sequoia trees.
- More intense fires fueled by climate change and worsening drought have plagued California forests in recent years.
Sprawling California wildfires sparked by lightning in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks devastated thousands of Earth’s largest and oldest trees in 2021.
A pair of fires that burned more than 185,000 acres collectively earlier this year tore through an estimated 2,261 to 3,637 giant sequoias, accounting for 3 to 5 percent of the Earth’s sequoia trees, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
The KNP Complex fire burned through the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks while the Windy Fire burned in the Sequoia National Forest.
The agency says the figure includes trees killed and those so severely burned they will likely die within the next several years.
The NPS notes the destruction follows 2020’s Castle Fire, which killed somewhere between 10 to 14 percent of giant sequoias in the region. That means wildfires over the past two years have killed nearly a fifth of the world’s giant sequoias.
“The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes,” Clay Jordan, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks superintendent, said in a statement.
“As we navigate the complex process of restoring access to the parks, we will continue to work diligently with our partners in the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition to become ever-better stewards of these incredibly special places, despite the enormous challenges we face,” Jordan added.
The giant sequoias are designed to weather and thrive in typical wildfire conditions, as their thick bark and high branches protect them from flames. They even depend on the fires as their cones release seeds when they are exposed to high temperatures.
But more intense fires fueled by climate change and worsening drought have plagued California forests in recent years, burning hot enough to wipe out the ancient trees. The NPS also notes a “history of fire suppression” across the region has resulted in denser forests that have changed how wildfires burn.
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