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The National Park Service wants to plant sequoias. Environmentalists sue, say there's no need to butt in

Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

High-intensity fires in 2020 and 2021 devastated the adult sequoia tree population globally, particularly at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Northern California.

That is one of the few things that National Park Service staffers and the environmentalists who are suing the agency can agree on.

At the root of the lawsuit, filed earlier this month, is a fundamental disagreement over the role of high-intensity fires. The National Park Service is calling "for action … with some level of urgency" to reseed burned areas that are "otherwise unlikely to recover" without human intervention. They see these fires as a threat to the species.

Research ecologist Chad Hanson, however, insists that such activity is unnecessary and "artificial." He says high-intensity fires help regrow dying populations by clearing brush that chokes young seedlings. Further, the process of reseeding would entail the use of dynamite and chainsaws, which would damage forest populations.

Hanson's John Muir Project along with Wilderness Watch, Sequoia ForestKeeper and the Tule River Conservancy filed the suit against the National Park Service to stop the agency's plan.

The complaint was added as an addendum to a previous lawsuit against the National Park Service intended to stop the thinning of forests to prevent and lessen the severity of fires.


"I'm not exactly sure what's going on with the National Park Service, but the news coming after the fires is very good," Hanson said. "The regeneration of the forest is on pace to be the best in decades, but it seems like we're allergic to good news."

Hanson first visited burned areas within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in late June.

Until that point, the news coming from these areas was gloomy.

A National Park Service report in June 2021 said 10% of the world's sequoias had been wiped out by the Castle fire alone. Ecologists and researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies had an estimate that was nearly double that, based on two major fires in 2020 and 2021. They put the loss of the giant trees somewhere between 13% and 19%.


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