15 giant sequoia fell and infrastructure damage is significant
A tempestuous windstorm blew through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias on Jan. 18. Wind speeds were estimated at 80 to 100 miles per hour, toppling 15 out of 500 large giant sequoia along with other trees including sugar pine and white fir. Eight sequoia fell in the upper grove and seven in the lower grove. While the largest and most famous trees remain standing, one that fell was a sizeable monarch; other fallen trees appear to be large mature juveniles.
Fires, storms, and wind events occur naturally in the giant sequoia forest, but an event of this magnitude hasn’t been documented in Mariposa Grove in recent history. “It is not unusual for one or two mature monarchs to fall over during a significant wind or weather event every decade or so, but 15 trees is surprising,” said Linnea Hardlund, Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow for Save the Redwoods League.
The League’s research in the giant sequoia range, including a current study on the impact of bark beetle infestations and monitoring of burned groves in the Sierra, will continue to reveal insights into the vulnerability of giant sequoia over time.
In 2014, Save the Redwoods League partnered with Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Conservancy to launch a four-year, $40 million restoration project in Mariposa Grove. The League and our donors contributed $500,000 to the project. During the restoration, our Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative researchers scaled trees in the grove and, for the first time ever, took core samples from the upper portions to study the baseline health of the sequoia. The goal is to study the benefits of the restoration work in the future. The League also worked closely with Allyson Carroll, a research associate at Humboldt State University, to provide information for many of the grove’s interpretive panels, as well as the ring analysis and preparation of a trunk cross section from a fallen 805-year-old sequoia displayed in the interpretive area.
The grove reopened in 2018. Today, much of the infrastructure that was built during the restoration has been damaged by the windstorm, including the boardwalk, restroom, and shuttle stop. Early estimates of the cost of repairs in Yosemite National Park are more than $200 million. We will continue to monitor the situation and work with our partners on solutions. As heavy snows make assessments and repairs extremely challenging, more in-depth assessments are expected sometime in the spring or summer. The grove will remain closed indefinitely.