Visit to southern Sierra grove offers rare opportunity to view damage from Windy Fire
Provided an opportunity to visit one of the giant sequoia groves affected by the Windy Fire before the first major storms cut off access for the winter, League staff on Oct. 15 briefly toured the organization’s 160-acre property within the Red Hill grove. The team confirmed that 100% of the property experienced wildfire during the Windy Fire, and that much of the property burned at either high-severity or the high-end-of-moderate severity. Access to the interior of the property was limited, but staff observed a number of dead monarch giant sequoia amid others that survived the fire.
A complete giant sequoia mortality study will be conducted by the League and its partners in spring 2022. The League had prepared a 60-acre unit for a prescribed burn this fall in the hope of reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire loss. The League held approved permits, and contracted with a burn boss; however, the Windy Fire got there first.
Since Sept. 9, the lightning-caused Windy Fire has burned 97,554 acres and is 92% contained as of Oct. 25. The League’s Red Hill property, on the South Fork of the Tule River in the southern Sierra, contains 110 ancient giant sequoia and provides a critical habitat for a variety of imperiled species including the Pacific fisher, Sierra marten and California spotted owl. Red Hill is located less than 200 miles from Los Angeles.
Preliminary studies from the National Park Service estimate that between 7,500 and 10,400 mature giant sequoia were killed in the 2020 Castle Fire/SQF Complex in the Sierra Nevada. This constitutes between 10% and 14% of the oldest and largest trees. This is stunning news, considering that giant sequoia have evolved to be highly resistant to fire. In recent years, the loss of just a few dozen giant sequoia was considered highly unusual.
While many factors, including climate change, contributed to the devastation, it is the unnatural buildup of vegetation due to decades of fire suppression in the Sierra Nevada that is the most immediate issue.