At Yosemite National Park this week, you may see smoke curling up from Mariposa Grove, the spectacular giant sequoia forest that catalyzed the conservation movement 150 years ago. This smoke is part of a planned prescribed burn in the forest to lower fuel loads that have accumulated over many decades of fire suppression.
If you had walked through Yosemite and its Mariposa Grove with John Muir during the early years of the park’s establishment, the scenery would have looked different. Fewer small trees, shrubs, and piles of dead branches would have blanketed the forest floor and instead, you’d have seen much further through the forest that you can today. The past openness of the forest vegetation was a result of frequent lightning fires that kept biomass loads low and prevented hot and intense fires from raging and damaging the old trees.
Prescribed fire is now accepted as a healthy choice for giant sequoia forests and Yosemite has reintroduced fire over the last two decades. Such prescribed fires help the largest trees in the world reproduce by giving their seeds an open place on the ground to grow. Low intensity fires also help thirsty giant sequoia handle the drought better, because fire lessens competition for water below ground by reducing over-crowding of small neighboring trees.
This prescribed burn is just one of many activities underway in Mariposa Grove this year as part of a major restoration project we are proud to support with our partners at Yosemite National Park and the Yosemite Conservancy. The Grove will reopen to the public in summer of 2017 and I can’t wait to see the revitalized forest and trail system! Learn more about this important project here.