National Forest Foundation

Amidst the Giants: Sequoias in Winter



Category: Trees
by Vance Russell

Flakes of snow | Drift in trees | Refracted by sun

One of my favorite authors, David Quammen, wrote an article about Giant Sequoias for National Geographic in 2012. One of the photos featured was of a 3,200 year old, 247-foot tree dwarfing several research scientists as they climbed the tree in winter. It's hard not to wax endlessly with superlatives about Sequoias and experiencing them in winter is one of life's great pleasures.

Ten years ago, my wife and I skied to a Sequoia grove during winter. The sound of our poles and skis soughing through a recent snow was the only thing to break the silence. There was no one in the forest as we approached the grove. Just a few months earlier thronging crowds gawked and focused on pictures, chatting, heels clicking awkwardly over broken ground. But now just an occasional raven gawked over the hushed woods.

As Quammen mentioned, they are almost too much to take in. One must sit and contemplate about their history and how they survive three millenia. I've tried to take pictures, even panoramas on my phone, but the photos never do justice to a Sequoia's grandeur. Winter accentuates their presence; since mountains are their natural habitat they must live in snow.

The sound of our poles and skis soughing through a recent snow was the only thing to break the silence

Suddenly we heard another couple. Although we were more than 250 miles from home I whispered to my wife that we knew them. She laughed, because I'm always saying I recognize people while we're traveling. She ducked behind the tree grabbing my coat. We waited patiently until they were gone, not wanting to break the silence with chit chat. Then we looked again at the dizzying heights of the giants, their canopies punctuated by blobs of snow held by their diminutive leaves. We never told our friends that we were in the grove that day. It became just another part of a Sequoia's history.


Sequoia groves are found throughout the Sequoia, Sierra, Stanislaus, Eldorado and Tahoe National Forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Multiple agencies, businesses and non-profits are collaborating to improve management and share scientific results regarding Giant Sequoia. Led by the National Forest Foundation, the Sequoia Work Group members believe better exchange of best management practices and access to research data is critical to the long-term survival.

Sequoias aren’t the only giants in California. Redwood trees are also in the Sequoia family. The NFF support redwood conservation throughout California and proudly supports the new movie Moving the Giants, recently featured at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and other venues. Moving the Giants follows David Milarch as he clones some of the world’s and largest living things, California’s coastal redwoods, and replants them in Oregon. This effort serves two purposes.

First, as the planet warms and conditions change in their southernmost range, it is likely that many of these trees will die. By cloning and replanting them further north in places where they were logged, Milarch will help preserve these majestic giants. Second, redwood trees are among the most effective carbon sequestration tools in the world. By planting these seedlings, Milarch takes part in a global effort to use one of nature’s most impressive achievements, treequestration, to re-chart a positive course for humanity.

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