The U.S. Forest Service announced Friday it would take emergency action to save California’s giant sequoia by speeding up projects that could begin within weeks to clear underbrush to protect the world’s largest trees from the growing threat of wildfires.
The move to bypass some environmental reviews could ease the normal approval process needed to cut down smaller trees on national forests and use intentionally lit low-intensity fires to reduce dense brush that has helped fuel raging wildfires that have killed up to 20% of all big sequoia for the past two years.
“Without urgent action, wildfires could wipe out countless more iconic giants,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in a statement. “This emergency pre-fire fuel reduction action will protect unburned Giant Sequoia stands from the risk of severe wildfires.”
The trees, which are the largest in the world by volume, are in danger like never before. More than a century of aggressive fire suppression has left forests choked with dense vegetation, fallen logs and millions of dead trees killed by bark beetles, fueling a raging inferno that has been intensified by drought and exacerbated by climate change.
The Forest Service’s announcement is one of a number of efforts underway to save the species, which is found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range in central California. Most of the 70 or so groves are clustered around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and some extend into and north of Yosemite National Park.
Sequoia National Park, which is run by the Department of the Interior and is not subject to emergency measures, is considering a new and controversial plan to replant sequoia trees where large trees have been wiped out by fire.
The Save Our Sequoias (SOS) Act, which also includes provisions to speed up environmental reviews like the Forest Service program, was recently introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, whose district includes sequoias.
The group welcomed Moore’s announcement Friday, but said in a statement that more needs to be done to ease deforestation.
“Today’s actions by the Forest Service are an important step forward for giant sequoias, but without addressing other barriers to protecting this grove, this emergency will only continue,” the group said. “It’s time to legislate this action by establishing a truly comprehensive solution to fireproof every California grove through the SOS Act and save our sequoias.”
Planned to begin as soon as this summer in 12 groves spread across the Sequoia National Forest and Sierra National Forest in would cost $21 million to remove so-called ladder fuel, which consists of brush, dead wood and smaller trees that allow fires to spread upward we. and light the canopies of the sequoias, which can exceed a height of 90 meters.
The plan calls for cutting smaller trees and vegetation and using prescribed fires — set intentionally and overseen by firefighters in humid conditions — to remove rotting needles, sticks and logs piling up on the forest floor.
Some environmental groups have criticized deforestation as an excuse for commercial logging.
Ara Marderosian, executive director of the Sequoia ForestKeeper group, called the announcement “a well-planned PR campaign.”
He said it did not consider how logging can increase forest fires and could increase carbon emissions that will make the climate crisis worse.
“Rapid thinning does not take into account that roadways and logging areas … allow for wind-driven fires due to greater airflow caused by canopy openings, which increase the speed and intensity of wildfires,” he said.
Rob York, a professor and associate professor of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley, said the Forest Service’s plan could be useful but would require extensive follow-up.
“To me, this represents a trinity approach to addressing the urgent threat to the giant sequoia,” York said in an email. “The treatments with frequent fires prescribed must be followed in order to restore and protect the grove in the long term.
The mighty sequoia, protected by thick bark and with foliage usually high above the fire, was once considered almost inflammable.
The trees even occasionally thrive with small fires — such as those historically set or allowed to burn by indigenous people — that clear out trees competing for sunlight and water. The heat from the flames opens the cones and allows the seeds to disperse.
But fires in recent years have shown that although the trees can live for more than 3,000 years, they are not immortal and may need more action to protect them.
During a fire last year in Sequoia National Park, firefighters wrapped the most famous trees in protective paper and used flame retardants in the tree canopy.
Earlier this month, when a fire threatened the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, firefighters deployed sprinklers.
The flames burned into the grove – the first wildfire to do so in more than a century – but there was little damage. A park forest ecologist said the controlled burns were protecting the 500 large trees.
US takes emergency action to save Sequoias from wildfires
Source link US takes emergency action to save Sequoias from wildfires