Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

Climate Change impacting Redwood Forests

By Erin Han, Aug. 30, 2022

Like many others at the start of the pandemic, I revisited old hobbies of mine such as hiking and camping. I reserved a campsite at Big Basin Redwoods State Park only to be devastated after a wildfire decimated most of the park. The Castle fires burned through the core of the park, destroying historical buildings including the visitor’s center.

California boasts nine national parks and 280 state parks from deserts to forests. California’s national parks and forests preserve historical monuments and diverse ecosystems.

A study measured the amplified climate change damage in national parks and found that the parks are sensitive to climate shifts because they are located at high elevations. According to the researchers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will alleviate impact at the parks.

Rising temperatures, dry vegetation, and drought conditions are causing frequent wildfires that are devastating California’s forests. According to a report by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, an estimated 10-14% of the sequoia population was destroyed by the Castle fire in 2020.

Wildfires are getting larger, hotter and more destructive. Decades of poor forest management have caused the wilderness to be filled with dry shrubs and dead trees that are flammable in high temperatures. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has spent millions to remove dead trees through methods such as controlled burns but are not able to meet their mark.

According to a report by the California Air Resources Board, wildfires accounted for an estimated 112 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. Trees contain carbon, and when they are degraded or logged, there is potential for the stored carbon to be released into the atmosphere.

Forests are also being degraded for lumber and other tree products. Clear-cut logging is a forest management technique that removes all or most of the profitable trees in a concentrated area to clear it and plant a fresh crop.

This method is not sustainable and destroys existing ecosystems in the trees. Resilient, natural forests are replaced with human-made seedling transplants unlike the ecosystems present in a healthy forest.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

In 2018, the Green Diamond Resource Company received Cal Fire approval for a Timber Harvesting Plan. In response to the company’s decision to move forward with clear-cut logging, members of a nonprofit organization called the Redwood Forest Defense have been living in treehouses built on the redwoods, to prevent the historic trees from being cut down in a practice they call tree sitting.

Nearly a year after the CZU Lightning Complex Fires, Big Basin Redwoods State Park reopened a small portion of the park. Visitors can observe the impacts of the wildfire through acres of burned trees.

The park’s ecosystem experienced a reset and new growth has emerged. In 2021, the California Department of Parks and Recreation launched the Reimagining Big Basin project to allow the public to engage in the restoration process.

A poll organized by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago found 59% of Americans consider climate change extremely important and believe its pace is increasing. While most Americans consider it a dire issue, many are still not convinced. 15% of Americans do not believe climate change is happening.

Scientists are fed up, and hundreds of them gathered across major cities in 25 countries to protest climate inaction, demanding state leaders address the issue with urgency. They expressed their desperation through acts of civil disobedience, such as gluing their hands to government buildings and chaining themselves to bank doors.

It is not too late to mitigate and adapt to the worsening effects of climate change caused by humans. Many of the world’s largest contributors to climate change are corporations and companies that are subsequently failing to tackle this serious issue.

Gaining awareness of the issue and informing oneself is also a step in the right direction towards mitigating climate change. The Redwood Forest Defense guards  the southern end of an ancestral territory that was once home to the Yurok Tribe. Volunteers can tree sit as a form of nonviolent protest against climate inaction.

Feature image by Sharon Wu. 

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