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Ancient sequoias face existential threat from wildfires, climate change

Mark Garrett, a fire information officer, examines a sequoia tree during a media tour of Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif.
Noah Berger / Associated Press
Mark Garrett, a fire information officer, examines a sequoia tree during a media tour of Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif.

Over the summer, wildfires like the Dixie and Caldor fires threatened homes, communities and even a part of California’s heritage, the giant sequoias.

At least 30 of the giant trees in the Sequoia National Forest were destroyed by fire just last month, and last year, 10-15% of all the state’s sequoias were also destroyed by fire.

RELATED: Here's why firefighters are wrapping sequoia trees in aluminum blankets

Kurt Peacock, an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist with Tree San Diego, spoke with KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday about the importance of saving the sequoias.

Peacock said the giant sequoias can grow to nearly 300 feet tall and can live up to 5,000 years. He said the trees are only found in Northern California due to the higher elevations.

"They're iconic. There's no other tree that comes close to mass and size, and we know from historic fossil records even, that the giant sequoias used to occupy a huge, huge section of North America," Peacock said. "Historically, over the hundreds of thousands of years, that range has shrunk down to that last population at the top of the Sierras, and man-made impact and what we do and climate change has caused their population to dwindle."

Peacock said other environmental challenges, in addition to wildfires, are impacting the lifespan of the giant sequoias. "Our change in climate, the intensity of storms, and then, of course, especially the lack of snowpack in the Sierras, which is what they count on," Peacock said. "That can be devastating for them because without enough moisture, and without enough cold, they don't function as properly."