Giant Sequoia trees in the western Sierra Nevada range in California have been severely damaged and estimates have said somewhere between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoia trees have been lost this year, alone.
This has been a bad year but last year was even worse as an estimated 7,500 to 10,400 trees were lost to wild fires, according to the Associated Press. That means the lightning strikes in California have destroyed nearly 20% of all giant sequoias in the last two years. The giant sequoia is the Earth’s largest trees and are native to about 70 groves in the western Sierra Nevada range in California.
These giant sequoia trees were once considered nearly fireproof, but are being destroyed in wildfires at rates that are alarming experts. Fires in Sequioa National Park and the surrounding national forest that also bears the trees’ name tore through more than a third of the groves in California in the last two years.
Officials said the overall rising temperature of the planet in addition to a historic series of droughts in California, along with decades of fire suppression tactics have allowed such intense fires to ignite that it could cause the destruction of so many of the trees, many of which are thousands of years old.
Over the centuries the giant sequoia has adapted to have a bark thick enough to protect itself from the lower intensity of fires that were commonly ignited by lightning strikes in the region previously.
The lower intensity fires even help the trees, clearing other vegetation so the great sequoia can continue to grow and the fire will open the cones, causing the tree to release seeds. However, due to the dry and hot environments, the fires of the past several years have burned too hot for the seed to grow, endangering the areas where the most trees were burned.
California has seen its largest fires in the past five years, with last year setting a record for the most acreage burned. So far, the second-largest amount of land has burned this year.
Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks said, “The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes. As spectacular as these trees are, we really can’t take them for granted. To ensure that they’re around for our kids and grandkids and great-kids, some action is necessary.”