Video: Monumental progress in protecting giant sequoias from severe wildfires

Coalition completes treatments in half of sequoia acreage, plants 542,000 trees

Giant sequoias, the largest and some of the oldest trees, are among the world’s most impressive living treasures. Also known as Sierra redwoods, these ancient wonders grow naturally only within a narrow range in about 80 groves in California’s Sierra Nevada. They have stood for millennia, enduring fires, insects, and droughts. But now climate change and increasingly severe wildfires are pushing these majestic trees to the brink. Since 2015, about 20% of the world’s mature giant sequoias have been lost to wildfires in the Sierra Nevada. The escalating severity of these fires threatens the very existence of these iconic giants.

The good news is that the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, which includes Save the Redwoods League, has made tremendous strides in the last two years to protect this tree species. The League is among the coalition’s 20 entities dedicated to the conservation and stewardship of giant sequoia grove ecosystems.

Exceeding goals for wildfire resilience

As shown in the coalition’s 2023 Progress Report for Saving the Sequoias, the organization exceeded its goals in 2023, its second year of large-scale collaboration. Together, coalition organizations treated nearly 9,900 acres in 28 giant sequoia groves—more than twice the acreage treated in 2022. This restoration work brings the total giant sequoia grove acres treated since the extreme 2020-21 wildfires to 14,143 out of 26,000. The restoration accomplishments increase the wildfire resilience of the groves by reducing the amount of hazardous and combustible plant materials (fuels) through manual and mechanical methods, prescribed fires, and cultural burning practices.

Since 2022, the coalition also planted over 294,000 native tree seedlings in severely burned areas, bringing the total to over 542,000. Save the Redwoods League and partners contributed to this effort by planting more than 50,000 native conifer trees in areas of Alder Creek Grove where the 2020 Castle Fire burned so intensely that the area’s natural seed source was lost.

“Our work to ensure a wildfire-resilient future for giant sequoias lives at the scientific intersection of forest ecology, wildfire, and climate studies,” says Joanna Nelson, Ph.D., League director of science and conservation planning and co-lead of the coalition’s science committee. “We are simultaneously applying the latest evidence-based techniques and advancing the field’s understanding through research. As we coordinate research and adaptive management across the coalition, we boost our ability to steward giant sequoias. This is a long-term challenge with long-term solutions, and we are starting the long-term with timely action, now.”

Other coalition accomplishments include initiating and hosting research studies by academic, government, and nonprofit organizations, reviving cultural practices, and expanding co-stewardship agreements with tribes and nonprofits.

Tidy piles of cut logs and brush are stacked in front of the large, light-brown trunks of giant sequoia trees
Tidy burn piles marked progress in removing ladder fuels from around monarch giant sequoias and large pines to restore natural fire resilience in Long Meadow Grove. Photo by Ben Blom.

League efforts contribute to coalition’s headway

As a a special affiliate member of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, Save the Redwoods League made significant progress in 2023 to protect and steward giant sequoias and their ecosystems. The League owns and manages its Alder Creek property, a portion of Alder Creek Grove in Giant Sequoia National Monument. Save the Redwoods also partners with Sequoia National Forest on fuels reduction, forest health, and post-fire restoration treatments in the national monument through an agreement that covers four groves to be treated over five years: Alder Creek, Freeman Creek, Long Meadow and Packsaddle.

In 2023, the League focused on Alder Creek and Long Meadow groves. Like much of the giant sequoia range, both groves were affected by recent wildfires, and portions of both groves burned at high severity. With coalition partners, the League treated 267 acres in and around giant sequoia groves on its Alder Creek property. This work included the final phase of a three-year post-fire restoration and reforestation project on 220 acres of the Alder Creek property. The League completed initial fuels-reduction work on 47 acres of a 275-acre project footprint. In addition, Nelson is leading conservation-genetics research on conditions affecting planted seedlings.

In and around Long Meadow Grove, the League partnered with Sequoia National Forest to complete 520 acres of fuels reduction, forest health, and post-fire restoration work. The goal of the project was to protect remaining ancient giant sequoia trees from future high-severity wildfires and to prepare the groves for a warmer, drier climate and the reintroduction of prescribed burning.

“While we benefited from a relatively quiet fire season in 2023, what happens this year is impossible to predict, so we must prepare for the worst,” Nelson says. “We urge elected officials and policymakers to continue to provide funding and personnel, enact policy changes and help us reduce fuels now so we can continue to address the problem at scale.”

Learn more in the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition 2023 Progress Report for Saving the Sequoias.

Read more highlights from the Spring-Summer 2024 Edition online.

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.

bear reading the blog
Get the latest redwood updates in your inbox