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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Tree Falls in the Forest

Air Date: Week of

A huge fire scar on an old giant sequoia in Black Mountain grove. This gnarled old giant is still clinging to life after centuries of surviving forest fires.(Sequoia National Forest)

A 1,500 year old Sequoia tree fell across a path in Sequoia National Forest. Forest spokesperson Denise Alonzo tells host Bruce Gellerman that foresters are trying to figure out what to do with the 250 foot-long giant.


GELLERMAN: On September 30, two German tourists set off to hike the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest. The California coastal mountain air was cool and damp and towering overhead was the awe-inspiring sight of the largest trees on earth. Then, as the couple walked the trail, they heard a noise. It was a “crinkling sound.” They looked up, and their video camera recorded what happened next.


GELLERMAN: A Giant Sequoia, actually two Giant Sequoias fused at the base, came crashing to the ground. A tree fell in the forest and it definitely made a sound: here it is again:


GELLERMAN: The German couple is fine, but the trail was blocked and now the National Forest Service has to figure out what to do with the fallen giant. Joining me is Denise Alonzo – spokesperson for the Sequoia National Forest. Denise welcome!

ALONZO: Thank you!

GELLERMAN: Boy, big drama! Big tree. Does this happen often?

ALONZO: No, this doesn’t. We do have Giant Sequoias that fall in the woods, but not normally on top of a recreation trail visited by 5,000 people a week.

GELLERMAN: (laughs) Do you know why it fell down?

ALONZO: No, we don’t. We actually had some pest management specialists come and take a look at it. We’re looking for foreign bugs, and stuff like that, that may have contributed to the roots breaking, but we didn’t find anything. The only thing we can think of is there’s a stream running nearby the trees, and also the wet winter that we had, perhaps the soil was so saturated that the weight of the trees just brought them over.

GELLERMAN: How big was this tree?

ALONZO: They estimate the trees in this grove are roughly 250 feet tall and this particular tree measured about 17 feet in diameter at breast height.

GELLERMAN: So how old is this tree?

ALONZO: The trees in the Long Meadow Grove, where these trees are located, are estimated at 1,500 years old.

(Photo: Sequoia National Forest)

GELLERMAN: Wow! 1,500 years - that puts it back in medieval times! Knights!

ALONZO: Yes it does. It’s hard to believe that these trees have been there for so long and have survived so many different things. You can see the fire scars on these trees. Giant Sequoias are actually dependent on fire to open up their little cones and pop the seeds out of them. And you can see evidence of fires in the Trail of a Hundred Giants on the giant sequoias that are there.

GELLERMAN: These are extraordinary trees. I guess in terms of giant sequoias, this was a kind of mid-life tree.

ALONZO: 1,500 years is about mid-life for these giant sequoias. The General Sherman, I believe it’s over 3,000 years old.

GELLERMAN: So now you’ve got a problem - you’ve got this giant tree that’s cutting right across your trail.

ALONZO: We do! And what to do about it kind of up in the air right now, we’ve…

GELLERMAN: Or down on the ground, as the case may be!

ALONZO: (Laughs). Well, that’s true! We have asked the public for their suggestions, we’ve had a brainstorming field trip, and got quite a few suggestions from the public. Some folks want us to actually tunnel though it. Others want us to reroute the trail around it, and some want us to just close the trail where the tree lies on the ground, and that is a concern of ours, because we want to have this trail reopened to all members of the public, including those folks in wheel chairs, pushing strollers and walkers, and have this opportunity available for all people.

GELLERMAN: Well, there are some giant sequoias that do have tunnels.

(Photo: Sequoia National Forest)

ALONZO: Yes, there are. Some, actually, you can walk through. Others, you can drive through. We don’t have any here in the Sequoia National Forest, but there are some up in Yosemite and up in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park.

GELLERMAN: In terms of mass, these are the largest living things on the planet.


GELLERMAN: That’s incredible. I was thinking maybe what we should do is kind of slice it up and give a sliver to every American to remind them of our natural heritage.

ALONZO: That is an opportunity and that's one of the suggestions that we’ve had.

GELLERMAN: So, who does decide what happens to the tree?

ALONZO: My district ranger will make a decision on how to get the trail reopened. When that decision comes out, we'll of course inform everybody and that’s the primary decision that we have to make right now.

GELLERMAN: If it’s called the Trail of 100 Giants, and now one fell, is it the trail of 99 Giants?

ALONZO: (Laughs). We’ve had that comment a couple of times. We actually have over 125 Giant Sequoias in the Long Meadow Grove that are over 10 feet in diameter. We have 700 that are under 10 feet in diameter. So we still do have way over 100 Giants on the trail.

GELLERMAN: Well, Deinse Alonzo, thank you so very much.

ALONZO: You're welcome. It's been a pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Denise Alonzo is with the Sequoia National Forest. So what do you think they should do with the giant tree? Let us know. Our Facebook page is PRI's Living on Earth.



Trail of 100 Giants

Click here for a video of the falling sequoia


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