California State Parks Close as West Coast Wildfires Continue

wildfires ravaging american west coast take lives and damage thousands of acres

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Twenty-nine state parks in California closed as firefighters work to contain blazes, The Los Angeles Times reported. Among them is Big Basin Redwoods, one of the state’s most famous parks. Nearly all old-growth redwood trees live in California.

redwood trees
State parks throughout California have been closed as wildfires extensively damage thousands of acres and continue to threaten redwood trees, known to be the largest trees in the world. Photo By haveseen / Shutterstock

According to The Los Angeles Times, the raging wildfires devastating the West Coast have disrupted many state parks in California. “This week’s eruption of wildfires has closed 29 state parks and partially closed five others, blackening tens of thousands of acres and extensively damaging the oldest existing state park, Big Basin Redwoods, north of Santa Cruz,” the article said.

“Big Basin Redwoods State Park, known for waterfalls and Pacific Ocean views, was established in 1902 to protect coastal redwood trees estimated at 1,000 to 1,800 years old. Beyond the closure of the park as fire continues to threaten Santa Cruz and neighboring areas, the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks are asking all Californians to postpone visits to Santa Cruz County or coastal San Mateo County.”

So, what makes coastal redwoods so special? Their size and age play a part in making them natural wonders.

A Head above the Rest

California’s coastal redwoods have some close cousins in the Sierra Nevada, giant sequoias. Comparing the two helps show how significant they are to nature.

“As the name implies, the Sequoiadendron giganteum of Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon national parks—and the various state parks in the California Gold Country—are truly giants,” said Joe Yogerst, journalist and travel writer. “The giant sequoia are the world’s largest living things in both weight and volume, and also among the oldest, with some trees more than 3,500 years of age—but they are far from being the tallest.

“That honor goes to sempervirensthe coastal redwoods—with the highest known tree soaring to an astonishing 379 feet above the ground.”

Yogerst said many coastal redwoods would tower over Big Ben in London and the Statue of Liberty. Although they don’t live as long as the giant sequoia, the coastal redwoods do boast trunks with larger diameters. Some of them feature trunks as wide as 29 feet across.

Parks and Recreation

“It’s more than big trees that make these parks so special,” Yogerst said. “They also protect pristine coastlines, wild rivers and streams, rich wildlife populations, relics of pioneer days, and the legacy of the Native American people who have called the region home for centuries and who continue to live in tribal lands beside the parks.”

However, even before the wildfires, the coastal redwoods were diminishing. Despite the rise in state parks in the 20th century, in unprotected areas, the numbers are growing smaller.

“Prior to the arrival of American settlers and the timber industry in the 1800s, around 2.1 million acres of the region were covered in old growth coastal redwoods,” Yogerst said. “With the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1700s, redwood was used in the construction of missions, forts, haciendas, and other structures along the northern and central California coasts. But logging didn’t become widespread until after California became part of the United States in 1850.”

According to Yogerst, the pace of deforestation was so fast that newspaper articles warning against it appeared as early as 1854. In 1918, a group of environmentalists started the Save the Redwood League to curb logging. By 2016, just 120,000 acres remained. Unfortunately, that number will be even smaller by the time the West Coast wildfires are contained.

Joe Yogerst contributed to this article. Mr. Yogerst is a journalist and travel writer. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Oregon.