Forest fires threaten the world’s oldest trees, but prescribed burns protect them

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The park has fed the Giant Forest with a constant prescribed burn regime for over 60 years after almost a century during which the fire was actively excluded from the grove. As of 2019, 500 acres in the giant forest near the General Sherman tree were treated with intentional burns. The result is a landscape that is a true example of favorable habitat for redwoods.

“Most of the giant forest is not in the kind of danger other groves are, or were in last year’s castle fire,” says Nate Stephenson, a United redwood expert. States Geological Survey.

So far, the fire has only ravaged the edges of the grove, approaching the four guards, a cluster of four huge trees near its edge. But scientists and park staff recognized the danger to these trees last week and rushed to protect them, clearing the debris from their bases so that if a fire were to rush towards them, there would be less flammable material. near.

Deeper problems for large trees

The biggest concern is with groves that haven’t received this kind of care, says Kristen Shive, a redwood expert and scientist at the Nature Conservancy.

Most of the 70 redwood groves in the Sierra Nevada are in hard-to-reach places. Trees here are often surrounded by younger or smaller trees that have filled the understory, as a result of little or no prescribed burning or thinning.

The KNP complex fire has already passed through Suwanee Grove and is close to several others, such as Lake Oriole and Atwood Groves. And the Windy Fire, south of the KNP complex, is making its way through several other stands of giant redwoods, some of which have not seen any fires – directed or wildfires – for several decades.

The fundamental problem is that fires behave more aggressively today than 10, 30 or 200 years ago, due to large-scale changes in the forest, as well as climate change, which is drying up the landscape.

Before the arrival of white settlers in the West, fire regularly crossed the territory. Estimates suggest that at least 4 million acres in the state burned each year, a combination of lightning burns and those set by Native Americans, who used fire to manage the landscape. That’s roughly the area that burned in 2020, and close to this year’s current total. In many parts of the Sierra Nevada, fires have swept across the country as frequently as every 15 years, on average; in the giant forest, some areas have seen fires as often as every 2 years.


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