The sequoia genus dates to the Jurassic period and was abundant across the northern hemisphere. One of three extant species, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is found within 73 isolated groves that span approximately 48,000 acres across the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Also known as Sierra redwoods, these trees are among the largest and oldest specimens on Earth, growing to 30 feet in diameter and living for thousands of years. In addition to being largely fire resistant due to its bark and height, the sequoia’s immense size allows the species to store vast quantities of carbon, making it crucial in counteracting climate change.
First recorded in the journals of European explorers in the 1830s, the trees were heavily lumbered throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century for commercial use. Measures to protect the giant sequoia were taken in 1864 with the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, which transferred federal lands within the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California on the condition they be preserved for public use. In 1890 public concern over sequoia lumbering led the U.S. Congress to establish the General Grant Grove and the Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt established the Sierra Forest Reserve (1893) and Sequoia National Forest (1908), respectively. In 1929 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., submitted a survey to the California legislature identifying additional redwood groves for preservation. Through the efforts of government agencies and advocacy groups, much of the groves had been placed under public ownership by 1940. Conservation efforts continued into the 21st century as President William Clinton created the Giant Sequoia National Monument in April 2000. Today, 98 percent of the Sierra redwoods are protected by state and federal agencies that manage a chain of parks and forests between Tahoe National Forest in northwestern California and the Sequoia National Forest outside Los Angeles.