Balanced Management of Giant Sequoias

An Ecological Foundation for Management of National Forest Giant Sequoia Ecosystems

Photo by iriskh, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by iriskh, Flickr Creative Commons

Giant sequoias are sometimes simply referred to as “big trees” and with good reason: They are the largest trees by volume and among the largest living things on Earth. These massive trees do not function in a void; they are supported by an intricate network of natural processes that keep the ecosystem working properly.

Like chefs carefully measuring ingredients for cuisine, Piirto and Rogers assess the delicate mix of ingredients that make up giant sequoia ecosystems. Canopy gaps of certain distances, fires, trees of various ages, and surrounding plants and animals are each sprinkled into the recipe. The amounts may vary slightly each time, but the ingredients and general proportions mixed together for a successful batch are consistent through out the giant sequoia’s range.

Or at least the basic recipe should be similar, Piirto and Rogers argue. Giant sequoia ecosystems existed before heavy-handed human beings arrived on scene. Humans have altered the delicate balance of these forests by chopping down the tallest trees, rerouting and polluting waterways, and suppressing the fires that once swept clean cluttering brush and debris. With the ingredients altered, the recipe fails and giant sequoias cannot grow or regenerate.

Finding the right balance of gaps, fires, moisture, and tree composition in portions of the forests the researchers study informs efforts to ensure the continued existence of the 75 remaining groves of giant sequoias left in the world. Piirto and Rogers encourage managers to pay attention to the broader context surrounding gigantic trees and how the elements fit together. Through rediscovering this balance, managers will again have the perfect recipe.

This work was peer-reviewed in 1999.

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