The beloved giants of Big Basin Redwoods State Park have been facing massive wildfires in California. Fortunately, many survived, proving how tough and resilient these trees can be, although there has still been considerable damage. Meanwhile, a condor sanctuary has also been devastated, with experts fearing the loss of some of these critically endangered birds.
Big Basin’s redwoods have stood in the Santa Cruz Mountains for more than 1,000 years. In 1902, the area became California’s first state park. The trees are a combination of old-growth and second-growth redwood forest, mixed with oaks, conifer and chaparral. The park is a popular hiking destination with more than 80 miles of trails, multiple waterfalls and good bird-watching opportunities.
Early reports of the Santa Cruz Lightning Complex fires claimed the redwood trees were all gone. But a visitor on Tuesday found most trees still intact, though the park’s historic headquarters and other structures had burned in the fires.
“But the forest is not gone,” Laura McLendon, conservation director for the Sempervirens Fund, told KQED. “It will regrow. Every old growth redwood I’ve ever seen, in Big Basin and other parks, has fire scars on them. They’ve been through multiple fires, possibly worse than this.”
Scientists have done some interesting studies on redwoods, including one concluding that redwoods might be benefiting from climate change. A warming climate means less fog in northern California, which allows redwoods more sunshine and therefore more photosynthesis. Researchers have also looked into cloning giant redwoods, which could save the species if they burn in future fires.
A sanctuary for endangered condors in Big Sur also suffered from the wildfires. Kelly Sorenson, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society, which operates the sanctuary, watched in horror as fire took out a remote camera trained on a condor chick in a nest. Sorenson saw the chick’s parents fly away.
“We were horrified. It was hard to watch. We still don’t know if the chick survived, or how well the free-flying birds have done,” Sorenson told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m concerned we may have lost some condors. Any loss is a setback. I’m trying to keep the faith and keep hopeful.” The fate of at least four other wild condors who live in the sanctuary is also still unknown.
Image via Anita Ritenour