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California wildfires have destroyed nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population of giant sequoia trees over the past two years.
Officials say that the devastating blazes across the state’s Sierra Nevada mountain range have killed thousands of the largest trees found on Earth since 2020.
Fires in Sequoia National Park and the surrounding national forest in 2021 have burned through more than a third of the groves, killing between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoias.
Wildfires that charred the same area in 2020 killed between 7,500 and 10,4000 of the estimated 75,000 trees left on the planet.
The sequoias, the largest tree by volume, grow in around 70 groves on the western side of the Sierra Nevadas, with some being more than 3,000 years old.
“The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes,” said Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“As spectacular as these trees are we really can’t take them for granted. To ensure that they’re around for our kids and grandkids and great grandkids, some action is necessary.”
California set a record for most acreage burned in wildfires in 2020, and 2021 is the second largest on record after that.
In the wake of last year’s fires, officials took extra steps in 2021 to protect the iconic trees, including wrapping the General Sherman teethe largest living thing on Earth, in a foil blanket.
A fire-retardant gel was also dropped on the tree canopies, sprinklers were used to dampen trunks and flammable matter was raked away from them.
Park official in 2013 used data to do climate modeling that predicted fires would not endanger the trees for another 50 years, said Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science.
“I’m not ready to give up on giant sequoias,” Ms Brigham said.
“This is a call to action to better protect the remaining old growth and make our Sierra Nevada forests wildfire resilient, because the fire’s coming.”
A full count of the trees killed in 2020 was underway but could not completed because new fires broke out this year.