SEQUOIA CREST — A large portion of Alder Creek Grove is gone. Yes, there will be an effort to eventually regenerate the large portion of Alder Grove that was devastated by the 2020 Castle Fire.
But it's easy to see when looking at the devastation it will be a difficult and arduous task to save any of what was damaged in Alder Creek Grove and it may never really be possible.
A delegation of State and Federal legislators got an up close look at the devastation at Alder Grove on Thursday as they were taken on a tour led by Sequoia National Forest officials. They were taken to the Sequoia Crest area where the grove was devastated and where half of the homes at Sequoia Crest were lost to the fire.
Among those who attended were Republican U.S. Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao and Democratic Congressman Jim Costa. Valadao represents the 21st district and is running to represent the redistricted District 22, which will include Porterville, in the June 7 primary.
McCarthy represents the current District 22, which includes Porterville. If reelection, McCarthy will no longer represent Porterville but will continue to represent the area that includes Sequoia National Forest.
Save the Redwoods League, an organization devoted to preserving the coastal Redwoods and the local Giant Sequoias, purchased Alder Creek Grove in late 2019.
All those who attended Thursday's tour described the effort to preserve the forest and to prevent future devastation such as what happened at Alder Creek Grove as an emergency. McCarthy suggested a Giant Sequoia special program be established on the federal level in which funds could be specifically allocated to the preservation of the Sequoias. He also said as far as appropriations goes, funding for the effort could be provided as soon as this year.
All those on Thursday's tour are also calling for “common sense” forest management, which includes clearing of fuels, thinning and prescribed burns. But in areas like the devastated portion of Alder Creek Grove, prescribed burns aren't feasible at this time.
Officials say the have a daunting task as the have to do a 100 years worth of work in a short amount of time over the entire forest. Along with the lack of management, forest officials say drought in contributing to the severity of the fires.
The Pier Fire in 2017 killed 58 Sequoias. It was an indicator of what was to come as the 2020 Castle Fire and 2021 Windy Fire combined to kill 20 percent of the world's Giant Sequoias. Forest officials said they determined last such recorded loss of Giant Sequoias would have come in the year 1279 in which 30 acres was lost.
One Sequoia could be seen at the devastated Alder Creek Grove area in which it had survived numerous fires over its thousands of years but couldn't survive the Castle Fire.
There are 33 Giant Sequoia groves in the Sequoia National Forest and forest officials say 26 of the 33 groves were impacted by the recent wildfires. They added 85 percent of all the Giant Sequoias were impacted by the fires.
Before the last 100 years or so, the Giants Sequoias would experience low intensity fires every 10 to 15 years. But over the last 100 years fire suppression has been the case.
Sequoia National Forest Supervisor Teresa Benson said officials knew the lack of management was a concern about admitted they had no idea how much of a devastation would be caused by the recent fires.
Forest officials are now faced with the task of trying to implement the kind of management that's needed over the entire SQF. Benson said the best case scenario is to get to the point in which maintenance is just needed every 10 years and that maintenance consists of just prescribed burns. Benson described prescribed burning as a vital part of the management effort.
It's believed there's still one tree that's smoldering from the Castle Fire. Smoke can be seen at times coming from the tree.
Those on the tour also received a chance to see the forest service's success story as they were given a chance to tour the Trail of the 100 Giants and see how they were saved. But damage to the trail can also be seen. The forest service is shooting for this Friday for the Trail of the 100 Giants to be opened to the public.
Jenna Eberlien, Pacific Southwest Region Director for the U.S. Forest Service, said the strategy to protect the forset is three-fold:
1. Post-fire recovery and disaster relief. 2. Fuels reduction and forest resiliency. 3. Allowing the public to return to the forest.
GREEN SIDE UP
The Castle Fire Ecological Restoration Project was launched last Saturday with the Green Side Up event.
More than 100 volunteers from Rotary Clubs from through Central California and Monterey, including the Breakfast Club of Porterville and the Rotary Club of Porterville, participated in the effort along with other. During the weekend 6,000 Giant Sequoia, Ponderosa and Super Pine seedlings were planted within high severity burned areas on the Western Divide Ranger District.
Last year the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition was formed to protect Giant Sequoias from the threats of climate change and wildfires.
The coalition includes the Sequoia National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, Giant Sequoia National Monument Association, the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Save the Redwoods League, Sequoia parks Conservancy and public and Tribal land management agencies.