I went up to see some old friends today. Some of these trees are up to 2000 years old and they have been known to grow up to 300 feet tall, and while they’ve survived everything that’s come their way over the millennia, climate change has nearly been their demise.
The giant sequoias are located in a narrow 60 mile band on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and only grow at altitudes between 4000 and 8000 feet.
The old giants are few in number compared to what once was. They were initially chopped down because loggers thought there was value for building. The wood wasn’t good for that, so they ended up using these incredible trees for roofing shingles, if you can imagine.
The recent Windy fire in 2021 started by lightening and burned over 150 square miles in the lower Sierras and it tore through the Trail of 100 Giants, among other areas before it was contained. The efforts of the firefighters to save this grove (and others) were astonishing. They scaled 200 foot trees with hoses to wet the crowns of other nearby sequoias that were burning, wrapped the lower trunks in a fire-protectant blankets, and worked from the air, among other things. But I've read that over 14% of the remaining giants were lost. They’ve had a program for a while to remove the dead kindling from around them with monitored burns and otherwise, as the drought weakened all the trees and allowed the bark beetles to take over killing tens of millions of trees in that forest. There was a ton of very dry fuel in the entire range which has exacerbated the recent devastating fires. The fires in this area now burn at an intensity that has no precedent because of all this dry fuel.
The last few times I went up there it was pretty depressing seeing all the dead or nearly dead trees, like giant douglas firs. It looked like fall for years as all the green turned to a rust color that resembled fall for deciduous trees. In that area, most of those dead and dying trees are burned up now, and the ground is full of signs of renewal, lots of green, lots of sprouts…it’s part of the natural order. A ranger I spoke with told me that as a result of the fires, thousands of new sequoias germinated in the area. Here’s hoping future generations can be awed by these giants.
*Geek note for any interested photographers. This forest, or most any other for that matter, is challenging to photograph. The sky is always a few stops higher than the foreground, so if one exposes for the sky, the foreground is dark, and if one exposes for the foreground, the sky will be totally blown out. These were shot with a Sony A7RV using the bracketing mode, so that it took a three images each time, with exposers above and below where I had set it. The resulting images were blended in Lightroom into the HDR images you see here.