The Giant Sequoias of California
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MANY of the early discoverers of the sequoia groves envisioned vast returns from logging these giants of the forest. The more accessible groves were promptly appropriated by lumber companies for private gain, and many giant sequoia areas passed into private hands along with the fine forests of pine that surrounded them. Logging began as early as 1862 and reached its peak from 1880 to 1900 when many groves of giant sequoia were cut. However, the vast size of the trees, difficulty of logging in the rough topography, and the immense machinery required to handle the logs partially protected the more inaccessible tracts.

The activities of the loggers stimulated the desire of a few public-spirited individuals to preserve some of the remaining groves of these little-known trees about which such apparently exaggerated reports had been made, but general lack of knowledge concerning their true size, extent, and characteristics delayed action for years.

One of the early forest conservation acts of the Congress of the United States was the passage in 1864 of an act called the "Yosemite and Big Tree Grant," which set aside 40 square miles of the Public Domain, embracing Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of sequoias "to be held as a park inalienable for all time." This area was administered by the State of California until 1906 when it was receded to the United States as a part of Yosemite National Park.

As a result of public appeals and the recommendations of the General Land Office of the United States Department of the Interior, bills were introduced in Congress in 1881 to set aside, either as a park or forest preserve, the whole western slope of the Sierra Nevada from Yosemite to the Kern River, which embraced most of the giant sequoia areas. These bills failed of passage since the opposition felt that the territory was too extensive. Later legislation, however, resulted in the creation in 1890 of the Sequoia, Yosemite, and General Grant National Parks (second, third, and fourth parks of the national park system) to preserve forever the forests of sequoias included within their boundaries. Governmental protection was placed over many more sequoias in 1893 when the Sierra Forest Preserve, at that time under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of the Interior, was set aside.

Other important sequoia groves have been preserved from private exploitation in various ways; some by outright purchase by public-spirited citizens and conservation organizations; some by direct governmental acquisition; and others by a combination of these two methods in which private contributions were matched by governmental funds. The most recent acquisition, authorized by President Roosevelt in 1938, is the magnificent forest in Redwood Canyon. This forest was added to Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, thus saving for posterity one of the finest endangered groves that remained in private ownership and perhaps the best example of an all-aged sequoia stand.

A survey of the present ownership of the giant sequoia groves indicates that approximately 92 percent of the larger trees are protected by public agencies. From present knowledge of these trees the custodianship of the estimated 20,000 trees more than 10 feet in diameter is divided about as follows:

Type of ownership
   National parks68
   National forests21
   Office of Indian Affairs1
State and county parks2
Private ownership8

The National Park Service has devoted much thought and planning to the protection of the groves and of the important individual large trees entrusted to its care. Since fire is one of the greatest threats to the life of trees, intensive forest fire protection provisions have been made for all sequoia groves in public ownership. Great care is exercised in the selection of routes for roads, sites for structures, camps, etc., in order to avoid injury to these giant trees. Because the roots of the sequoia are all very close to the surface, it is necessary to prevent excessive trampling about the trunks. This is the reason for the barriers surrounding the more popular trees which are visited annually by thousands of persons. Public cooperation in the protection of the giant sequoias is essential.

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Last Updated: 02-Feb-2007