The National Park Service is working to replant several groves of giant sequoias devastated by recent wildfires. But some conservationists say planting is unneeded and could damage forests.
Severe wildfires in 2020 and 2021 killed as many as 19 percent of all giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world, which grow only in scattered groves in the Sierra Nevada range in California. The Park Service has begun planting sequoias in two hard-hit groves where it says seedlings are particularly scarce, and it plans to undertake planting in four others. Officials say that without planting, burned areas could turn to shrubland.
An official assessment finds, however, that planting projects could inflict some damage. Planting crews may disturb mountain wildlife. And in some areas, where helicopters are needed to haul in seedlings, workers may have to use chainsaws or explosives to clear landing space.
The potential for damage has spurred four conservation groups to sue to stop the planting. The move is part of an existing lawsuit that aims to block the Park Service from thinning forests to guard against severe wildfires. Conservationists contend that enough seedlings have taken root to repopulate the forest, obviating the need for potentially damaging planting projects.
“In many places, tens of thousands of sequoia trees are growing per acre,” Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, one of the groups involved in the suit, wrote in a recent op-ed. “Frankly, planting crews will likely crush just as many seedlings as they plant in such places.”
The Park Service maintains that planting is needed to restore damaged groves. “There’s a lot of research behind what we’re doing,” a Parks Service spokesperson told The San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not a decision that’s taken lightly.”