After drought and wildfires, California’s giant Sequoias face a new enemy: bark beetles

December 14, 2020

By: The Working Forest Staff

CapRadio, California State University –When ash began landing in Nate Stephenson’s yard 30 miles west of a fire burning in Sequoia National Park this summer, he knew the trees he’s studied for four decades were in trouble. 

“I started to see some giant sequoia ash falling and that’s when I knew it was going to be really bad,” the USGS research ecologist said about his home in the mountain community of Three Rivers.

Multiple lightning-caused fires this summer in and around Sequoia National Park merged into the SQF Complex. Months later the blaze is still burning and is about 90% contained at just over 174,000 acres. 

The giant trees, which thousands of people visit yearly, were stressed by a multi-year drought. Wildfires this year killed hundreds of the largest trees. The extent of the damage to the groves from wildfires is unknown, but from helicopter flyovers, scientists say the damage is unfathomable. 

“The trees just got wiped out in a way that is unprecedented … it’s like watching elephants go extinct,” said Christy Brigham, science chief of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. 

It could be a precursor of what’s to come for the big trees. Those same scientists say a new threat is emerging — bark beetles that feast on the bark of stressed-out giant sequoias. Unless scientists come up with ways to prevent these insects from harming giant sequoias their fate could be like the millions of trees that died from another beetle during the last major drought. 

“We have very strong preliminary evidence that these trees were weakened… by drought and by fire damage, but they were ultimately killed by a full-on attack from this native bark beetle,” Brigham said.

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