This year’s wildfires have killed thousands of giant sequoia trees of California, amounting to 5% of the world’s population, highlighting the worsening effects of a warming planet. 

What is Happening? 

Wildfires in California’s Sequoia National Park and the surrounding Sequoia National Forest this year have razed down thousands of giant sequoias, according to a new report published by the the National Parks Service (NPS).

The US government agency found that up to a fifth the world’s giant sequoia trees were killed as a result of the twin California fires – KNP Complex and Windy –  that were ignited during a lightning storm in early September 2021. As a result, an estimated 2,261-3,637 large sequoias have died, or will die in the next three to five years. 

Sequoia trees are one of the planet’s largest tree species that can reach up to over 250 feet tall and live well over 2,500 years. They are also evolutionarily designed to withstand wildfire burns, or supposedly “fire-proof”. But recent wildfire seasons have notably been more severe and more widespread, with California experiencing the state’s largest single-source wildfire ever recorded in 2021, causing national park service officials to take special measures including wrapping aluminium foil around the trunks of the sequoia tree to protect them from fire. 

However despite protective measures, wildfires blazed through 185,000 acres in California, damaging at least 28 giant sequoia groves in its wake. 

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Last year’s California wildfires, which was one of the worst wildfires in US history, destroyed 14% of the world’s giant sequoias population. Combined, park officials estimate that nearly 20% of all sequoias in the world have perished within the last 14 months due to two unprecedented wildfire seasons. 

“It does not ever get easy looking at a monarch giant sequoia that has died,” said Teresa Benson, supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest, at the briefing. “That is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to look at in my entire 30-year career with the forest service. It is not a good thing for our environment.”

“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,” Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks said to Associated Press. “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-grandkids, some action is necessary.”

The significant loss highlights the worsening impacts of global warming and a changing climate. Areas like California have been experiencing prolonged droughts and higher temperatures, causing much drier vegetation, which creates greater fuel for fires. 

The giant sequoia is listed as an endangered species with fewer than 80,000 trees remaining in the world.