On a still dead November morning in the Sierra Nevada, two explorers pass through a graveyard of giants. Under their feet: a layer of ash and coal. Above their heads: an ossuary of endangered trees.

It is Alder Creek Grove, once an idyllic setting for a majestic and massive specimen: the giant sequoia. It is now a blackened monument to a massive forest fire and humanity’s far-reaching impact on the environment. But these two explorers have come to do more than pay their respects.

Linnea Hardlund and Alexis Bernalboth from the University of California, Berkeley, are studying the effects of record fires like the one that destroyed large swaths of Alder Creek Grove, with the hope that their findings will inform forest management that can preserve giant sequoias for future generations.

So far, these findings are grim: mortality is close to 100 percent where the wildfires burned most intensely. Of the mighty trees that stood watch for thousands of years, only charred skeletons remained.

About a century of aggressive fire suppression and a warming, drier climate created an ideal environment for an unprecedented wildfire. On August 19, 2020, he reached Giant Sequoia National Monument. The SQF complex were two fires, the Castle Fires and the Rifle Fires, which burned for more than four months, affecting nearly 175,000 acres. And a preliminary report on the castle fire calculated that 10 to 14 percent of all living giant sequoias were destroyed.

Hardlund, who is also with the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League, and Bernal fear that without science-based intervention, similar fires will continue to return to the Sierra Nevada, leaving the once-proud guardians of the forest a memory and yet another casualty of our ecology a failure.


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