YEARS AGO, I traveled a lot for work. Spending long hours in my car, I listened to talk radio shows of all sorts. One host I remember from those days was a fellow named Dennis Prager.
I only remember one thing about Prager that matters to me — he often expressed a preference for clarity over agreement. And that’s where I am right now with issues relating to giant sequoias.
I’ve only been back to covering these issues about six weeks, and already, it’s clear that not a lot has changed in the dozen years my focus has been elsewhere. There still is not much agreement about the issues.
On Saturday, my husband and I were in the Black Mountain Grove of giant sequoias near Camp Nelson in the mountains east of Porterville, California. The occasion was a public tour sponsored by the Forest Service. Officials explained — and showed — the work they have been doing there.
As I reported in a newspaper article for The Bakersfield Californian on Aug. 21, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore declared an emergency on June 22. Work is underway to clear what the agency calls a dangerous buildup of vegetation in 12 giant sequoia groves.
Ara Marderosian, executive director of Sequoia ForestKeeper, was among those who attended Saturday’s field trip. I know Ara from my time years ago writing for the now-defunct Southern Sierra Messenger newspaper during the early planning years for Giant Sequoia National Monument.
I wondered what Ara would think of the Forest Service’s work in the groves.
He told me before the tour, when the field trip was gathering at Pierpoint Springs, that he’s making his 80th trip around the sun. Not only does he have ten years on me, but he’s also far more physically fit. He could keep up with a group hiking up a dirt road on Saturday, but I was out of breath and turned back after the road started another upward climb. We didn’t have much time to talk, but we talked on the phone yesterday.
In future articles, I’ll write more about what Marderosian said about the Forest Service’s project. He seems consistent with his viewpoint about the agency — which is to say that he doesn’t trust its actions, including the latest emergency response.
I’ll share one thing he said regarding giant sequoia mortality during fires in recent years. The Forest Service, National Park Service and others claim wildfires have killed some 20 percent of the largest giant sequoia trees.
Ara is not sure they’re all really dead. Given the known ability of giant sequoias to withstand fire and live long lives, he said he thinks they need to be given more time to see if they start to put on new green growth. He thinks they may recover on their own.
You may agree with Ara — or you may not. If you agree, I suspect his statement seems reasonable. If you disagree, you may think he’s a crackpot. After all, scientists and foresters with the public agencies in charge of managing the lands where these big trees grow say they died by the thousands.
But some people don’t trust these public agencies. My purpose in sharing Marderosian’s thoughts about giant sequoia mortality isn’t to hold his viewpoints up for public ridicule, but to show the range of opinion — even about whether the giant sequoias were actually killed by the high severity wildfires of recent years. I’m striving for clarity.
We may disagree, but I believe we’ll make it farther down this road of life together if we are aware that there are perspectives other than our own. Whichever “side” we’re on.
I’m trying to do fair journalism here. But this is a big subject, and no one article can span the breadth of science and opinion about giant sequoias, the land where they grow or the world today. Not even close.
But if you stick with reading my newsletter, I will do my best to ensure clarity. We may disagree, but at least we should be able to understand other viewpoints.
A few tiny seeds managed to survive all of the natural changes California’s Sierra Nevada has seen over the past several thousand years to become the monarch giant sequoia trees that take our breath away. Given that improbability, I think people can try to understand each other.
(I do have to add this: I’m not a biologist or botanist, but the giant sequoia in the photo above looks pretty dead to me).
Note: I wrote this “Perspective” column as part of the fourth issue of my newsletter, “Giant Sequoia News,” on Aug. 29, 2022. My intent at the time was to post items from my newsletter to this website, and vice versa (when appropriate). But I was busy with other things and now in January 2023 I am catching up on posting articles from the newsletter here if they are still viable. — Claudia Elliott