2 famed giant sequoias, feared dead, are alive

Fire damaged The Orphans in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The Orphans in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, blackened but alive. Photo by California State Parks.

Two monarch giant sequoias known as The Orphans, which incurred fire damage during a 2022 prescribed burn in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, are still alive. Several scientists visited The Orphans last month in the North Grove, also observing thousands of giant sequoia seedlings surrounding the two trees. Heat generated by the fire and consumption of ground fuels around the trees’ bases created conditions for the tiny trees to grow. 

“Standing beneath these magnificent trees and seeing the carpet of baby seedlings is incredible,” said California State Parks Central Valley District Superintendent Danielle Gerhart. “Sequoia regeneration is one key forest management goal in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and witnessing the results of the burn program through this new growth shows the importance of fire in the ecosystem. State Parks will continue to work to protect and preserve this land using many different tools and the latest science to manage the resources in the park.” 

In other good news, Save the Redwoods League and Cal Fire joined California State Parks on a 39-acre prescribed burn among the amazing ancient giant sequoias in the North Grove last month. Completion of the work demonstrates progress in reintroducing a healthy fire regime that reduces buildup of understory fuels and reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire in this beloved park near Arnold.  

It is integral to the health of giant sequoia trees to get fire back into these groves to maintain a frequent fire regime because fire plays a key role in their ecology and life cycle. League Forest Ecologist Linnea Hardlund assisted with the burn as a fire effects monitor and provided expertise on giant sequoia fire ecology during operations. Save the Redwoods League continues to have a robust partnership with the park and their prescribed fire program, and we are grateful for their dedication to improving the health of their groves with the use of prescribed fire. 

Prescribed burn calaveras
A crew member puts fire on the ground during prescribed fire operations at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in October 2023. Photo by Linnea Hardlund.

Completion of the prescribed burn is good news for giant sequoias, some of the largest and oldest living organisms on the planet. They are iconic and rare, and for the first time in recorded history, they are dying in severe wildfires as a result of decades of fire suppression and climate change. California’s already limited native giant sequoia range is facing unprecedented threats from severe wildfires that have killed approximately 20% of mature giant sequoias since 2015. 

The League and other members of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition have made significant progress to restore the giant sequoia range and help protect it from severe wildfires. In 2022, its first year of large-scale collaboration, the Coalition far exceeded its goals, treating 4,257 of 26,000 acres in 36 of approximately 80 groves‒more than double the acres originally targeted for restoration in 2022. 

A 1,300-acre prescribed burn is planned in the South Grove area of Calaveras when conditions are favorable. California State Parks, Cal Fire and contractors have spent several years preparing the South Grove Preserve for treatment. Crews have removed large fuels along the fire road surrounding the South Grove to create a control line. Additionally, crews have prepared large giant sequoias by removing heavy fuels and organic matter from their bases to reduce the likelihood of negative impacts from fire. 

Learn more about prescribed burns at Calaveras Big Trees. 

About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.


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One Response to “2 famed giant sequoias, feared dead, are alive”

  1. Mike

    The articles leads with “Two monarch giant sequoias known as The Orphans, which incurred fire damage during a 2022 prescribed burn in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, are still alive. ”

    But then only mentions that several visiting scientists observed “thousands of giant sequoia seedlings surrounding the two trees.”

    There was no mention of evidence that either of “The Orphans” was alive … just the seedlings, which I presume may be sprouted due to the fire.

    Can you describe the evidence that the scientists found that the two huge trees .. not just the seedlings .. are alive?


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