As California’s drought worsens, over 93% of all known giant sequoia trees currently exist in areas experiencing "exceptional drought" conditions — the most severe drought classification established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Giant sequoias are among the most ancient organisms on earth, frequently towering over 250 feet tall and boasting a trunk diameter as wide as 26 feet. But despite being one of the longest-living flora on this planet — some of the oldest known examples of the species are well over 3,o00 years old based on dendrochronology — human activity and climate change threaten their continued existence. And now with drought conditions worsening across the West Coast, virtually every single one of the massive trees is now rooted in an area under exceptional drought conditions, leaving them prone to damage from wildfires.
A newly released map by the Save the Redwoods League (a.k.a. the "League") — an SF-based non-profit organization that’s one of the nation’s longest-running conservation organizations, responsible for protecting and restoring redwood forests since 1918 — shows just how dire the situation is at the moment. Moreover: Over half of all coastal redwood ranges exist in either exceptional drought or “extreme drought” conditions.
"These are potentially dangerous, dry conditions for these iconic forests," reads the press release from the nonprofit. "The biggest threat to these forests is the unnatural overgrowth of vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. "
Though forest fires are an essential part of a forest's lifecycle, the speed at which they've occurred over the past few years has been far from natural. The National Park Service estimates that between 10% and 14.5% of the world’s giant sequoia died because of the 2020 SQF Complex fire in the Sierra Nevada — with this year's drought conditions far worse than those observed last year.
To illustrate the severity of this emergency, the League superimposed the known range of giant sequoias over drought maps provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor, illustrating the potential fire dangers facing these ancient trees.
Per the release, 44,799 acres of giant sequoia presently fall under exceptional drought conditions, while the remaining known acres — around 3,093 — exist within extreme drought conditions.
The state's redwood groves aren't fairing much better, either. Over 2.3 million acres of coastal redwoods now lie within either exceptional or extreme drought conditions with another 1.9 million acres within “severe drought” or “moderate drought” conditions. As it stands now, a whopping 0% of all coastal redwoods are rooted in areas experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions — the least dire drought level described by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
What can you do to help safeguard these groves from possibly becoming ash as we get deeper into fire season? The League recommends sending an email to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, to call for immediate action to protect giant sequoias; those with the financial means to do so are also encouraged to donate funds to nonprofit already helping restore and protect the endangered tree species — like the League, as well the Sempervirens Fund and Redwoods Park Conservancy.
Now's not a bad time to see how you can curb your water use, as well.
Image: The Stagg Tree is the fifth largest known tree in the world. (Photo by Max Forster, Save the Redwoods League)