Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Take Emergency Action to Protect Sequoias From Wildfires

by Amy Myers
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

In response to the recent fire activity that has ravaged California’s national parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are implementing emergency actions to help prevent future damage to the beloved, ancient trees. Starting Friday, October 14, park staff will remove and reduce the dense vegetation that surrounds the giant sequoias that act as fuel for natural or man-caused fires.

Between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which sit back-to-back in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, there are a total of 11 giant sequoia groves. And all of them are in danger of fire destruction.

“In the midst of a new era of extreme fire behavior fueled by climate change, this work is an important step towards ensuring the long term viability of the ancient giant sequoias and protecting them from future losses,” said Chuck Sams, director of the National Park Service. “We have the tools to protect this iconic species and will deploy them as needed.”  

In order to thin out the surrounding vegetation, teams will have to hack away at the plants by hand. Then national park staff members will create burn piles of cut vegetation and dead wood. Down the line, they may also execute prescribed burns around the sequoia groves.

“The fires of 2020 and 2021 underscored the importance of deploying all tools at our disposal to protect sequoia trees,” added Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “Park managers are assessing the appropriate fuels reduction tools for each grove on a case-by-case basis.”  

The parks added that sequoias actually thrive on “frequent low- to moderate-intensity fire for healthy growth and regeneration,” but the recent wildfires have been so intense that they have threatened to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s sequoia population.

California National Parks

According to the park’s official release, roughly 13 to 19 percent of the world’s population of sequoias met their demise because of three large wildfires in 2020 and 2021, the Castle, Windy, and KNP Complex Fires. Several thousand trees died in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and in some areas, there were no mature sequoias left to reseed the ground and continue the giants’ legacy.

The parks hope that their efforts will help prevent damage to the sequoias should wildfires reach the region next year.

“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have a prescribed burning program that dates back more than 50 years,” the release explained. “Most of this work has been focused on medium- to high-use areas, including 10 sequoia groves, to protect the spectacular natural ecosystems as well as human safety and infrastructure. These decades of work have proven to be effective in areas such as the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. This work will help protect many of the more remote giant sequoias by reducing the amount of hazardous fuel in thus-far untreated groves.”