‘Together we’re stronger’: Coalition advocates for sequoia conservation

Photo of a sequoia tree
Berkeley Forests/Courtesy
A sequoia tree stands tall among other trees. The California-grown giant sequoia tree is suffering devastating losses to its population due to wildfires, prompting advocacy for sequoia conservation from the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition.

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The Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition is working to save the California-grown giant sequoia tree, which is suffering devastating losses to its population due to wildfires.

As a result of the Castle Fire, which burned through the Sierra Nevada in August 2020, approximately 10% to 14% of all live sequoias perished, according to U.S. Forest Service ecologist Amarina Wuenschel. Currently, two active fires are threatening sequoia groves throughout the state.

“In terms of the impact on the giant sequoia population, this is unprecedented and pretty shocking,” said Ariel Thomson Roughton, the Berkeley Forests research stations manager. “A fire like this (is) really devastating when thinking about the long-term sustainability of this species in California.”

Native only to the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada, giant sequoia trees remain very ecologically constrained, which can weaken their capacity to adapt to climate change, according to Bodie Cabiyo, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in the Energy and Resources Group.

According to Savannah Boiano, executive director of Sequoia Parks Conservancy, many plants and animals rely on sequoias for food and shelter, including bats, chicories, coyotes and squirrels.

“Sequoias have a special place in a lot of people’s hearts, and they’re also an important part of the ecosystem,” Roughton said. “They’re definitely a charismatic species, given their size and grandeur and what they mean to us as Californians as a whole.”

Boiano noted that 11 land managers, with the assistance of UC Berkeley researchers, have collectively formed the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition in order to mitigate ongoing damage to sequoia groves. These land managers include the National Parks Service, the U.S. Forest Service and Indigenous tribes, among others, Boiano added.

Boiano and Teresa Benson, forest supervisors for the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument, both noted that the coalition will employ scientific research to create a unified strategy for sequoia conservation efforts.

“We all joined this coalition to enter the call to action that something different needs to happen if we’re going to be able to preserve this species that so many people love,” Benson said.

The coalition will devise conservation strategies specific to each sequoia grove’s unique needs to increase its chance of survival, Benson added.

Similarly, additional organizations, such as Berkeley Forests and Sequoia Parks Conservancy, are leading efforts to develop fire recovery strategies for sequoia groves.

The National Parks Service needs additional funding to prepare sequoia groves for potential fires, Boiano said, adding that it has “a lot of work” ahead of them.

“We all have the greater good of the sequoias as our number one goal,” Benson said. “Together we’re stronger, together we can make a bigger difference than working separately.”

Contact Rachel Raps at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelraps_dc.