At the time of writing, the Soberanes Fire has burned over 60,000 acres in Monterey County and is about 45% contained. The fire area covers much of Garrapata State Park, a scenic and rugged redwoods park at the southern end of the coast redwood range. We don’t yet know whether, or to what extent, the park’s redwood groves are suffering damage; and while the primary concern is for the well-being of nearby human communities, it’s interesting to consider the implications of fires like this in the redwood forest.
Fires have always burned in the redwoods. They are a natural and necessary element of both coast redwood and giant sequoia ecosystems. When occurring frequently and at low or moderate intensity, fire sustains the redwood forest by preventing overcrowding and allowing sequoia seeds to germinate (fallen cones pop open in the heat).
Coast redwoods and giant sequoias are superbly suited to withstand these smaller fires. That’s why, on a hike through any mature redwood forest, you’re likely to see burn scars here and there on healthy, thriving trees.
But now, due to a warming climate and years of fire suppression policies, we often get super-hot, intense fires that are difficult to control, can climb up into the forest canopy, and are capable of destroying forests and killing even the biggest, most resilient redwoods.
These devastating fires are a scary prospect, but there are ways to help prevent them. League researchers and staff study and monitor coast redwood and giant sequoia forests to determine where intervention is needed for fuels management. We prevent the buildup of vegetation on League-owned properties by clearing overgrowth and conducting prescribed burns as part of an overall ecological restoration strategy.
The League also advocates for a policy shift away from fire exclusion. An adaptive policy that allows for the natural fire regime to be more closely replicated will lower the risk of huge, hot fires and leave both human and natural communities safer and healthier.
You can help by supporting the League’s forest restoration work.
Learn more about wildfire and the redwoods by checking out the Threats to the Redwoods page and these other blogs:
• Fire Season, by Richard Campbell, on why bigger and more destructive fires have been occurring recently
• Like a Phoenix, by Dr. Emily Burns, on some ecological impacts of forest fires
• Native American Use of Fire, by Deborah Zierten, on how and why Native Americans practiced burning
• One Way to Manage and Protect a Forest: Burn It, by Jessica Neff, on fire as a forest stewardship tool