Nearly a third of southern Sierra forests killed by drought and wildfire in last decade
On my way home one night from a wine-tasting tour of the Santa Rosa area I passed in a blizzard, driving through a forest of downed tree stumps and brush litter from the recent fires. When I looked down at my hands, I saw an almost imperceptible pink residue on some of the nails. When I looked up, I saw that the snow was melting on the blacktop surface.
We are not, in fact, so accustomed to being in a forest of these things during the winter. And there are many reasons for this. Even when it’s not too cold, the ground in most forests is generally not frozen. And the wind tends to die down on the way to the coast. So by the time we leave the trees it is the dead and dying ones, which are more accessible. They are sometimes even more spectacular, with their gnarled and twisted stumps.
The image of this, in part, led me to write my first “Tree is Dead” column more than a decade ago. In 1995, California was experiencing its second-strongest drought in more than 100 years. It was also forested. In the Sierra forest, where the last decade has been a record-breaker, more than a third of the area had been killed.
The Forest Service lists about 11,700 species of trees in the Sierra, with 2,543 being conifers, including pines, firs, and hemlocks, in addition to the 7,700 conifers in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
In the eastern Sierra, there are fewer conifers, but they are more prolific in the conifers of the eastern side of the park. More than three times as many firs, and about five times as many pines and hemlocks, are in the eastern portion of the Sierra as in the western part.
The northernmost part of the park is the only region in the United States where the conifer tree species make up nearly