Over the last five years, nearly 20 percent of the world’s Giant Sequoias have been destroyed by wildfires. Sadly, these natural wonders, which can live for thousands of years, are in crisis.
In the op-ed below for TIME, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (AR-04), and Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52) discuss their bill, the Save Our Sequoias Act, commonsense legislation to reform forest management practices to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires in Giant Sequoia groves.
We Need to Save America’s Sequoias
July 1, 2022
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, and Congressman Scott Peters
Millions of people from all over the world come to visit our majestic Giant Sequoias every year. No photo can accurately depict the awe-inspiring natural splendor of a Giant Sequoia, towering more than 300 feet into the sky. They are wonders that must be seen to believe, and they have been symbols of American natural beauty for centuries.
Only 37,000 acres of Giant Sequoias exist in the world, all of which are in California. These iconic trees grow to be thousands of years old and are extremely fire-adapted under normal fire conditions. Their massive size and ancient history also mean they are indescribably important in providing Californians with clean air, clean water, an amazing wildlife habitat, and natural carbon storage.
Historically, Giant Sequoia groves experienced an average of 31 fires per century that would clear out smaller fuels on the ground and allow Giant Sequoias to reproduce and flourish. These “smaller fuels” are smaller trees and brush that grow enough to make fires burn hotter and bigger, and in many instances, reach into the canopy. Due to decades of fire suppression and misinformed policies that stymie good forest management practices, however, fire hasn’t touched some of these groves in over a century. This has caused a buildup of hazardous fuels which feed catastrophic fires that far surpass what Giant Sequoias can tolerate.
That’s why we’ve seen catastrophic wildfires, such as the SQF Complex Fire and Windy Fire, kill Giant Sequoias at an alarming rate over the past few years. In fact, over a 15-month period from 2020 to 2021, the world lost nearly one-fifth of all Giant Sequoias to catastrophic fires. The intensity and frequency of these wildfires are exacerbated by worsening drought conditions and extreme heat. And these preventable high-severity wildfires are making things worse, drastically increasing global emissions.
Conditions on the ground were so dire last year that heroic firefighters had to work around the clock to save trees like the famous General Sherman, wrapping the root crown in fire protective “space” blankets in a last-ditch effort to prevent permanent damage.
This is an emergency that demands immediate action. America’s rich natural resources, including the Giant Sequoias, won’t stay healthy if we just sit back and hope for the best. It’s why we’ve received input from state, local, tribal, and industry experts on specific ways to protect Giant Sequoias. We also saw firsthand the devastation these fires wreaked on the landscape when we led a bipartisan delegation to the groves themselves to learn even more from folks on the ground about how to effectively care for these iconic trees. Those listening sessions led to the introduction of our bipartisan legislation, the Save Our Sequoias Act, that draws on this wide range of input to codify an action plan that can be implemented immediately by our land managers.
Our bill would codify the existing Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition and task them with creating a Giant Sequoia Health and Resiliency Assessment to inform future management decisions. The bill would then streamline regulations while maintaining robust environmental protections to ensure the recommendations from this Assessment can be implemented quickly and efficiently by land managers. Finally, our bill devotes the staffing and funding resources necessary to ensure a dedicated effort to saving our Giant Sequoias for generations to come.
By proactively managing California’s forests, we can mitigate the severity of wildfires before they even begin. Instead of firefighters resorting to desperate measures to combat out-of-control infernos in Giant Sequoia groves, we can take action to keep fires from getting there in the first place. It’s the only way to secure long-term forest health and prevent losing more trees in the future.
Given the robust bipartisan support the Save Our Sequoias Act already has, there is no reason why we cannot pass it quickly this Congress and get it signed into law so forest managers can have much-needed wildfire mitigation resources on hand. We are racing against the clock of another historic wildfire season, and Giant Sequoias are increasingly at risk.
This is just the first step in a much broader bipartisan effort to improve the health of our nation’s forests. Year-round wildfires are the new normal for California residents, and that is unacceptable. They threaten lives, homes, wildlife, businesses, property and more every year, costing the state billions of dollars and forcing people to pick up the pieces of their lives from ashes. We’re committed to championing real solutions in Congress that would address the root issues causing these blazes, and the Save Our Sequoias Act is proof that we can create a collaborative model that can work for the rest of our public lands.