Thanks for your knowledgable feedback and debate. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to what happened to the Washington Tree. I saw the tree a few times before the fire and subsequent winter storm collapsed it. It was indeed a huge, magnificent tree, and one of my favorites. I saw it just a few weeks after it collapsed and it was a sad sight. But I guess I can see it both ways. What I don't agree with is the Park Service's position that it should still be considered to be the 2nd largest tree in the world. It is very clearly no longer. And I think the Grant Tree should rightly be considered #2 now.
Most sequoia groves I have seen, besides the highly developed Giant Forest, Grant Grove, Mariposa, and Long Meadow Groves, are very much overgrown with highly flammable timber. One little ground fire gets in there and even the largest giant sequoias which will withstand most low to moderate intensity fires may succomb. I am thinking mainly of the recently visited Cunningham Grove which the McNally Fire of 2003 got dangerously close to. It is extremely difficult to walk around in that grove due to the density of downed fuels. There is literally no bare ground - it is covered with downed trees and limbs in there! I found similar conditions in the Evans Grove where the Ishi Giant Tree grows and portions of the Converse Basin Grove where the Boole Tree grows. Oh, yeah, the Freeman Creek Grove is also very overgrown, especially with young white fir trees which are shade-tolerant and grow profusely in the absence of fire.
I think we should be using prescribed fire whenever possible to clear out the dead and down stuff. But I don't believe prescribed fire can do the job alone. Especially in regards to air quality. The air quality in the Southern Sierra is lousy and if we tried to restore every forested area here with prescribed fire alone everyone in the Central and Owens Valleys would probably have asthma and other ailments by the time it was done. Also, conducting prescribed fire operations is rather costly and the Forest and Park Services definitely don't have any extra monies to spare these days.
So I think, in some areas, we can do some mechanical treatment and thinning. I've seen some thinning done in as environmentally sensitive manner as possible to make a real difference in the area. The last sawmill left in our area has converted much of its operations over to handling smaller timber and they can get into an area and clear it out and I believe do a world of good. No, it wouldn't be advantageous for all and everything. Sensitive species such as Spotted Owls and Goshawks and Fishers would probably be disrupted. So I don't think we should do this everywhere. But for the sequoia groves that already have good road access and are on relatively flat terrain and in non-riparian areas and where there are no cultural sites we could disturb, well, I think we should give it a shot. Unfortunately there are people who believe that no trees should ever be cut down no matter what the circumstances, and they are not shy about suing and appealing and it's gotten to the point where said sawmill is probably going to shut down.
I consider myself to be an environmentalist, not one that has extreme views, but one that is very knowledgeable and cares deeply about this planet Earth and is willing to work with land management agencies, not against them, to find ways to co-exist and do the job that very much needs to be done together.
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com