Posts Tagged: redwoods
Forest management can help giant sequoias and coastal redwoods survive
In 2020, 9,000 fires scorched more than 4 million acres of California, a record-breaking year, reported Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic. Fires burned through homes and oak forests, grasslands and pines — and also through patches of giant sequoias and coast redwoods, respectively the most massive and the tallest trees on earth.
Giant sequoias are not the oldest living trees, but some have been growing in Sierra Nevada forests for more than 3,200 years. They are found in 68 groves on the Sierra's western flank. The state's redwood forests grow in a narrow strip along the coast of Northern California and Southern Oregon.
The 2020 fires burned through about 16,000 acres of sequoia groves, about a third of their total area. In redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 40,000 acres burned.
But because redwoods are well-adapted to fire, they'll likely recover pretty quickly, said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley fire scientist. “In some ways, this fire could make redwoods more dominant in the landscape," he said, because other trees — like the hardwoods or Douglas firs that crowded the local forests — died outright in the burns.
However, scientists are concerned one cause of the fires, climate change, could have additional impacts on these natural treasures.
Since the mid-1800s, temperatures in the western U.S. have increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Fog banks are fading in coast redwood territory, and snows are less consistent in the Sierras. The changes leave redwoods and sequoias without their preferred climate conditions.
The most responsible thing to do now, Stephens said, is to “take the opportunity that has been handed to us,” and make a plan to go back in and burn again—soon, within the next few years.
UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson agrees that California must manage fire to help the trees survive. Tree-ring records show that humans have influenced the fire regime for better and worse as long as they've been in these forests.
“The empowering message there is, human management can actually override the effects of climate in a fire contest,” Quinn-Davidson said. “It's not just a climate story. We can't just throw in the towel, feel overwhelmed, and tell ourselves these trees are done for. That's not true!”
The winds of late spring are an uncomfortable reality in Solano County. They blew through on June 8 and 9, blustery, drying north winds that disrupted graduation ceremonies, outdoor weddings and picnics at the park. Broken tree branches and piles of leaves and twigs, pushed up against north-facing fences and gutters, were evidence of the onslaught.
A realist would shrug off the loss of large branches as Mother Nature’s rather brutal pruning plan. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow. A friend of ours lost the top third of a redwood tree planted in his front-yard lawn. When I heard this, I immediately thought of another friend who had recently told me about losing the top portion of a redwood tree on her property. Turns out, that loss was due to lack of water, but both of my friends now face a tricky situation: What do you do with a fast-growing evergreen that loses its terminal bud leader?
Redwoods that have been topped — whether by nature or humans — tend to freak out, sprouting from masses of dormant buds just below the topping cut and under the bark. This results in an extremely fast-growing tangled mess of unstable branches where once there was one tidy and elegant trunk. These masses are weak and tend to peel away in strong winds (which we know will return in late spring).
What my friends now face is quite possibly annual pruning of those redwoods. They must be prepared to maintain the sprouts and trim any large branches regularly. And they should consult with a certified arborist to do this work.
Redwood trees are considered to be wind-resistant trees. It appears my friend’s front-yard tree, though robust and healthy in appearance, faced prior stress and had become weakened somewhere along the way. Leave it to the winds of late spring to test that stress. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s pruning plan after all.
Late spring’s strong north winds caused this otherwise healthy redwood tree to lose its leader. The tree is located in southeast Vacaville. (photo by Ken Williams)
CalTrans road project would impact dozens of redwoods
CalTrans' controversial plan to widen a stretch of Highway 101 in Northern California would impact more than the 54 trees the agency will remove, according to an Associated Press story that cited UC Berkeley forestry professor Joe McBride.
CalTrans wants to realign the section of the highway so it can be added to a national system of roads that cater to large trucks. The one-mile section is the only part of Highway 101 from San Francisco to the Oregon border where the large semi-trucks aren't permitted, except by a special exemption, the story said.
A vocal group of North Coast residents have asked a federal judge in San Francisco to stop the project.
McBride studied the site and Caltrans' plans. In a court document filed in support of the project's opponents, McBride said that Caltrans' arborists had not accurately stated the project's potential effects on the old-growth redwoods. McBride's analysis concluded that dozens more trees would die as a result of the work, and that the root systems of seven ancient redwoods would be negatively impacted.
"Substantial irreparable damage would occur to the trees in the project area as a result of the proposed project ... (which) would, in turn, cause negative impacts to the overall health of the forest in the vicinity of the project area," McBride wrote.
The judge's ruling is expected this week.
CalTrans wants to remove six redwoods for road project, but UC Berkeley scientist says more will be harmed.