Mette Lampcov is a freelance documentary photographer from Denmark, who is based in Los Angeles, California.She studied fine art in London, England and after moving to the United States 15 years ago, studied photography and journalism at...
The Parker group in Giant forest Sequioa national park.
In 1901 the naturalist John Muir wrote in a magazine that no description could capture the majesty of the giant Sequoia. He said “ natures forest masterpiece, and, as far as I know, is the greatest living thing”
Muir's advocacy helped create several national parks, including Sequoia in 1890.
Sequoias have stand on the westen slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and can reach the age of 2500-3000 years and then normally die of old age and fall over, until recently-
In the last two years three major wild fires lit by lighting have killed 13-17% of Sequoias. With climate induced droughts, wildfires are becoming larger and burn more aggressive, with more high intensity fire zones that will alter the landscape.
In 2021-22 I followed and worked closely with Sequoia scientist and fire ecologist entering the KNP complex and Windy fire to document the effects the climate crisis is having on Giant Sequoias for Sierra Magazine
CHRISTY BRIGHAM BEGAN working as the chief of resources management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 2015. It was a tense time for anyone working with trees. California was three years deep into one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, and some 12 million trees had died in the southern Sierra Nevada—a figure that would eventually rise to more than 60 million. The one type of tree Brigham was told she didn’t have to worry about was Sequoiadendron giganteum. “What I was told when I got here is that nothing kills sequoias,” Brigham says. “Eventually they just fall over.” A mature sequoia’s mortality rate is a fraction of other species’. Its thick bark is nearly impervious to fire and insects. There are perfectly healthy sequoias in the parks that were alive when Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii.
Tony Caprio fire ecologist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is measuring a Giant Sequoia as part of an evaluation trip in an area that had previously had a prescribed fire . Tony and his team of fire effects biologists are doing the 2nd visit since the prescribed burn ten years ago, creating a grid system where they measure and analyze seedlings, growth of tress, and fuel load such as dead logs or sticks. Sequoia national park.
Forest canopy ecologist Wendy Baxter collects samples of xylem (the tissue that transports water) from a giant sequoia in August 2021, in the hope of finding out why some trees seem more resilient to beetles and fire during drought. Baxter and colleague Anthony Ambrose are also helping the National Park Service build an archive of sequoia cones to preserve genetic diversity in case more trees are lost.
Brigham, Shive, and colleagues hike into a section of Redwood Canyon where satellite data showed some of the most severe damage following the KNP Complex Fire. “These trees escaped the worst of the damage, but in some places, flames reached as high as 150 feet, burning the tree canopy and every living needle on the trees in their path,” Brigham says. She estimates that the KNP killed between 1,330 and 2,380 giant sequoias in the parks. “These are trees that have lived for millennia, through so many fires. But because we mismanaged our forest by keeping all fire out—and screwed up the climate—we are losing them at alarming rates,” Shive says.
A protective layer helped - As the KNP Complex Fire recedes, Andrew Cremers, a fuels specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, removes foil that was put around the base of the General Sherman Tree to protect its trunk from floating embers—particularly sparks that could get inside the cavities left by previous burns, where a lack of bark makes the tree vulnerable to flames. The fires that made up the KNP Complex got within 500 feet of General Sherman but failed to do any damage because of the long and frequent history of controlled burns in Giant Forest. General Sherman is the world’s largest tree, at 275 feet tall and about 36 feet in diameter.
Beetle tracks are an ominous sign Ana Tobio, a parks intern, peels back the bark on a fallen sequoia branch to reveal tunnels cut through the cambium layer by western cedar bark beetle larvae. The beetle is native to the forest, but it hadn’t been known to kill giant sequoia trees until a historic drought hit California beginning in 2011. Although only 33 trees have been confirmed as killed by beetles, the infestation raises an alarming possibility: Climate change is making sequoias vulnerable in new and unpredictable ways.
“The big trees were healthy” While Sequoia and Kings Canyon are still closed to visitors because of damage caused by the KNP Complex Fire, forest scientists Christy Brigham and Kristen Shive hike through Redwood Canyon, assessing the damage. “We saw some areas in the grove where fire did good work consuming fallen logs and needles and making space for the next generation of giants,” Brigham says. “The big trees were healthy, and you could see that a lot of the dense little trees and fuels had been burned up. That’s really inspiring.”
Fire crews in Big Stump Grove rake fallen tree branches and other debris and set pile fires. The process is more labor-intensive than a broadcast burn, where a fire is deliberately set and moves through the forest the way that a wildfire would, but safer in areas with buildings, or where large quantities of undergrowth could make a fire burn dangerously hot. At right, a prescribed fire burns in Sequoia National Forest.
Overcome by hotter fires The scorched remnants of three sequoias in the Alder Creek grove killed during the Castle Fire. Hotter fires fueled by overgrown forests and climate disruption mean that some sequoia groves may convert to scrubland and never return as forest without human help. Another possibility is that Sequoiadendron giganteum will survive, but most trees won’t live as long or grow as large, becoming a little less spectacular and more like other tree species.
The General Sherman tree—quite possibly the most visited tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park—flanked by two other sequoias. General Sherman is the world's largest tree, measured by volume. It stands 275 feet (83 m) tall and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base.