“Headache!” is what professional tree climbers yell to warn folks about falling branches.
It’s also what many scientists are experiencing these days as they consider the fate of the giant sequoia, the biggest tree on Earth. Journalist Thayer Walker stomped into Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest to report “Last Tree Standing” for bioGraphic, a multimedia magazine. (The story has also appeared at atlasobscura.com.)
Walker explains that California’s lengthy drought has felled many shorter leafy victims: 102 million trees and counting since 2011. But at first no one was all that worried about giant sequoias, which can live for thousands of years. Their bark is fire-resistant. They repel insects and fungi. They’re basically indestructible.
So Nate Stephenson, a United States Geological Survey forest ecologist, was taken aback in 2014 when he tipped his head way, way back to look at the top of a great sequoia and saw that it was brown instead of green.
“In more than 30 years of studying these trees Stephenson had only seen two die on their feet. Five years into the current drought, he’s now seen dozens of standing dead,” Walker writes.”