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Giant sequoia falls, raising questions about what to do next

 
 
Reply Thu 3 Nov, 2011 10:17 am
November 3, 2011
Giant sequoia falls, raising questions about what to do next
By Bettina Boxall | McClatchy-Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES — Along the Sierra Nevada's famed Trail of 100 Giants, the mammoth sequoia had stood sentry since King Arthur's knights gathered at the Round Table.

It witnessed the arrival of the first European settlers and the flurry of miners in search of gold. The onset of the Medieval Warm Period and the passing of the Little Ice Age. It stood, unperturbed, through the Great War and the one that followed.

Then a month ago, as a handful of amazed tourists looked on, it toppled - crushing a bridge over a small stream and blocking the path.

Now, the U.S. Forest Service must decide what to do.

Slice a big hole in the 300-foot-long roadblock? Go around it? Over it? Under it?

When you're dealing with a 1,500-year-old sequoia in a national monument, the questions aren't just logistical. They're environmental, emotive and potentially legal.

Officials closed the popular tourist trail, cleared the debris and solicited ideas from the public on how to deal with the fallen giant - actually two trees fused at the base.

Among the 30 or so suggestions: Reroute the trail. Tunnel under the trunks. Carve steps and build a bridge over them. Sell what would be one heck of a lot of firewood.

"This has not happened in the Sequoia National Forest before," said public affairs officer Denise Alonzo, explaining the indecision.

The now-prone twins - two-thirds the height of Los Angeles City Hall - were among the bigger specimens in Long Meadow Grove, part of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. About 17 feet in diameter at their common base, the trees are middle-aged for giant sequoias, which can live 4,000 years and have the greatest mass of any living organism on Earth.

The Forest Service isn't sure why the trees hit the dirt Sept. 30, because they appeared to be healthy.

A German tourist, one of only a few people on the 1.3-mile loop trail at the time, recorded the crash on video.

"It can't be possible," Gerrit Panzner told the Visalia Times about what went through his mind when he realized the sequoias were falling.

"I wasn't afraid," said his wife, Sigrun Rakus. Her only thought was to get out of the way.

The trees may have toppled because the wet winter left the ground too soggy to hold the roots, which are relatively shallow.

"Sequoias do fall. That's how big sequoias die," said Nathan Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey. "It's never anything that I consider with alarm."

After a wet winter in 1969, he said, one of the giants fell in a picnic area of nearby Sequoia National Park and killed a woman. Over the years, there have been a couple that thudded onto trails in the park. Officials cut openings in the downed trees to allow visitors to pass through, as well as to give tourists an appreciation for their immense size.

When the Trail of 100 Giants was built several decades ago, it actually was routed around a long-fallen sequoia. Since the Forest Service reopened the path more than a week ago, visitors have been climbing on the hulking trunks and treading where only birds and animals have been for more than a millennium.

"We got up there and everybody was just in awe of what was in front of them," Alonzo said. "And until the snow falls, it's open for anybody to go up and visit."

In considering its options, the Forest Service wants to keep the paved path accessible to the disabled and make sure nothing is done to damage the root systems of surrounding trees, Alonzo said.

Ara Marderosian, executive director of the environmental group Sequoia ForestKeeper, knows exactly what the Forest Service should do.

Nothing.

"I thought it was a great classroom for what nature does," said Marderosian, who submitted a three-page letter to the agency after visiting the grove. "It's quite a beautiful sight to see on the ground the way it is."

Bettina Boxall writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/11/03/129150/giant-sequoia-falls-raising-questions.html#ixzz1cexmP69d
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Type: Discussion • Score: 12 • Views: 2,638 • Replies: 22
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rosborne979
 
  2  
Reply Thu 3 Nov, 2011 02:11 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
I think they should blow it up with dynamite, like they did with that dead whale a few years ago. Wink

ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 3 Nov, 2011 02:29 pm
@rosborne979,
I've been following this story in the LA Times. I'm interested to find out what the powers that be choose to do. The LA Times comments were all over the place, but as far as I read, most wanted a bridge over it. A whole bunch of commenters said 'saw through it'.

I don't know how it goes in the Sierras (I'll ask friend Richard, who lives in the foothills), but in the coastal sequoia areas, a fair amount of people are unhappy with the "drive through" tree phenomenon, popular decades ago but still functioning, so I figure some would be repulsed by a sawn through 4000 year old fallen tree. If it crossed the key road between Sonoma County and Humboldt County - which highway 101 is - then I could see sawing it.

A visitors trail can be moved.

There was a fallen sequoia of old growth size in the sequoia grove of my last home town, not many feet from the trail. I liked it being there. I don't know if the trail was moved after the tree fell. However, that trail was not handicapped accessible, which I gather the trail the sequoia in the article rests on is designed to be, though I'm not so sure about the photo I saw.

I would try to work out an alternate route, accessible to every person or not, but preferably accessible given it was chosen as an accessible route in the first place. In Sequoia Park one was not supposed to leave the trail - and I never saw anyone do that, so given the trail is narrow (ours could be very narrow with varying depth of stepping, lots of ways to break your neck), it didn't impinge much on what I would call the forest interstices - the between tree spaces. To get a tunnel to work would involve construction I wouldn't want to do in that vicinity.

If I couldn't do that, I'd do a bridge (redwood, I dunno, maybe steel). Or would I? I'm not sure - I might make a completely different trail for all visitors.
There have been suggestions for a tunnel, but I can't see how that would work in a place that gets at least moderate rains.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  2  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 10:07 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Cut it up in little pieces, sell it for a high price for dumb tourists and solve our debt problem with the proceeds.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 11:12 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
Hollow it out and turn it into a "museum" built into the giant tree.
0 Replies
 
roger
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 03:48 pm
Slice it up into 4" slabs. It would make up into lots of really huge and expensive coffee table tops.
ossobuco
 
  0  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 07:39 pm
@roger,
so, like, have any of you cut it up types spent time in redwood forests?

Table tops have happened already. Cute idea.

P'dog might argue with me and I'd listen. He's the only a2ker I'd listen to on this.
Even then I might spit tacks.
ossobuco
 
  0  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 08:09 pm
@ossobuco,
Meantime, a very old tree fell on a relatively recently constructed path.

It looks like the votes are for cutting into the tree, with - looking at the posts - quite a lot of glee.

What is that about, hatred of tree huggers? I don't like some of them myself, but I don't equate them with the trees.

I'm also not a save every tree type, so don't assume that.
Ceili
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 09:14 pm
I think your government has already done that to the dumb tourists. I for one won't be going to see the redwoods again. Mind you, this dumb tourist can see bigger trees here that aren't suffering from lack of water or stupidity when it comes to a downed tree.
0 Replies
 
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 09:18 pm
@ossobuco,
They need to put some additives into the soil so it doesnt keep slumping away and causing more trees to fall. As for this one, itd be nice to have some U set up an environmental "tree ring lab" using this specimen. Id cut it across the grain about 2/3 the way down and leave the whole cross section open to view. Then Id coat that with some polymer so it can remain a nice visible cross section. Id send a couplke samples to U of Az and U Mo for tree ring collections. Theyd probably have to build a special storage building for the chunks.

You can slice outer segments of the cambium and theyll send out roots in a nice medium like sphagnum. I had a small sequoia knot take root and grew really big when I had a small bungalow in STockton Cal. It was growing several years later and I lost touch with it for about 15 years. The knot came out of Muir woods.
MontereyJack
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 09:24 pm
If a giant sequoia falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Quote:
HistoryPhilosopher George Berkeley, in his work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, proposes, "But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park [...] and nobody by to perceive them. [...] The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden [...] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them."[1] Nevertheless, Berkeley never actually wrote about the question.

Berkeley's example is referred to by William Fossett twenty years later in a consideration of the emergence of meaning: "[T]ease apart the threads [of the natural world] and the pattern vanishes. The design is in how the cloth-maker arranges the threads: this way and that, as fashion dictates. [...] To say something is meaningful is to say that that is how we arrange it so; how we comprehend it to be, and what is comprehended by you or I may not be by a cat, for example. If a tree falls in a park and there is no-one to hand, it is silent and invisible and nameless. And if we were to vanish, there would be no tree at all; any meaning would vanish along with us. Other than what the cats make of it all, of course."

farmerman
 
  2  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 09:32 pm
@MontereyJack,
Fortunately, none of that is relevant cause we ARE the adoptive caretakers. Ecology is also knowing what is the minimum niche by which components of an ecosystem can survive, and then not ignoring it.

We have the technology AND the responsibility.
0 Replies
 
roger
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Nov, 2011 09:57 pm
@farmerman,
Un huh. U of Az has a truely incredible library of wood. Send 'em a sample from Chaco Canyon and they can tell you exactly where and when it was cut. Incredible.
0 Replies
 
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 03:47 am
The answer seems obvious to me, this is a forest trail, not a super highway, forest trails accommodate the forest, so you simply move the trail.
Fallen trees are nothing uncommon on forest trails, they are part of the natural world and the experience of the forest.
0 Replies
 
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 10:01 am
Can't say I feel too exercised about it. Certainly I would prefer to see as much as possible of the biomass of the tree to remain in the forest. Wood from the giant sequoias (as opposed to the coastal redwood) is pretty useless stuff from a utilitarian point of view anyway -- very crumbly stuff, which is why early efforts at logging the giants didn't continue aggressively.

Seems to me there are three obvious choices: 1) cut through the tree and maintain the current trail; 2) build a whole bunch of new trail around the tree, which is going to be a big and pretty invasive project if it's going to continue to be fully accessible; 3) close the trail.

Here's a pic of the tree from the LA Times, for sake of reference:

http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2011-10/65733153.jpg

You can see the tree really fell in such a way to obstruct the present course of the trail as thoroughly as possible.

The big question is whether the service is committed to keeping the trail accessible. I expect they will be, in the end. I worked for a summer in a coastal redwood grove that was accessible (by steam train) to anybody not attached to life support, and met some chair-bound folks who came from a long way to see the forest from the inside and they and their families were usually very grateful for the opportunity. "Right" or not, nobody is going to want to be in the position to tell those people (and potentially the media, on a small scale) that they can't see this place any more because they couldn't cut through a downed tree.

Looking at the picture, I don't know that a bridge over the entirety of the trunk of the tree is a very practical undertaking, though it's certainly technically possible. And I don't think building new paved trail all the way around the downed tree is a particularly responsible decision.

What I could see doing is taking a partial-thickness section out of the trunk on the course of the current trail, and then building a wheelchair-friendly ramp through the cut. It's certainly more of an engineering feat than just cutting all the way to the ground, but it would be a lot easier than going all the way over and would retain some of the sense of the majesty of the downed tree.

That's the solution I would pitch, anyway. I'm sure there are folks who would object to taking a saw to this tree at all, but to me that's far less invasive to the forest than building new trail.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 10:19 am
@patiodog,
Its a perfect section to cut as a cross section and then apply a hardener and a poly coat to set up a walking lesson on dendrochronology.
Course the entire tree log will need to be firmly held with a granular base so the fuckin thing doesnt start rolling.
patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 11:04 am
@farmerman,
I'd personally have no problem with that, farmerman. Technically the least demanding approach. I offer the compromise in the event that they truly do feel hamstrung by opposition to a complete section.

Of course, a hemisection could be similarly treated and presented. At the same time, I've always appreciated the sensation of seeing and touching decaying wood in the forest: biologically and aesthetically, decay is as much a part of of the scene as growth is. You could perhaps even treat one side of the cut and leave the other to ferment, as it were...
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 12:52 pm
Maybe they could cut it in half down its length horizontally, flip it open, then preserve both inside sections and then people could walk down the length of it and look at all the Growth Lines while walking from base to tip with markers along the way for what period of history it was when the tree was only so tall.
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 01:44 pm
@rosborne979,
Good idea.

BBB
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Nov, 2011 02:26 pm
@patiodog,
patiodog wrote:

http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2011-10/65733153.jpg

You can see the tree really fell in such a way to obstruct the present course of the trail as thoroughly as possible.
The cheapest solution would be to put a small sign at the end of that railing that said, "Dead End Trail" and just leave everything as it is. Or better yet, put a bucket under the sign and charge tourists extra money to see the Dead End Trail.
0 Replies
 
 

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