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When a giant sequoia falls in the forest

November 2, 2011 |  6:00 am

Giant sequoia
Now we know that when a tree, a really big tree, falls in the forest, it creates a lot of noise. At least, noise among the people who debate what to do with it, as people are with a 1,500-year-old tree that recently fell across the Trail of 100 Giants in the Sierra Nevada.

Good. Probably just 50 years ago -- about 3% of this tree's life span -- few people would have known or cared. Now, we're a much smarter society when it comes to the value of old-growth trees. We're more likely to cherish them for values that go beyond what we can build with them when we cut them down.

The question is whether we're smart enough to do the simplest thing -- leave the tree alone, rerouting the trail around it and providing informational signs about the amazing transformations  going on in, under and around the tree. Fallen trees have a life beyond death, as it happens, as habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, mushrooms. They release nutrients back into the soil. It's a whole circle-of-life thing.

We've come a long way, I hope, from the days when we thought it was cute to cut a tunnel for cars or carriages through living giant sequoias. While visitors gasp at the tree's now-horizontal heft, they have a chance to learn about forest ecology on a mammoth scale. Nature isn't kind, even to a living thing as seemingly regal as a tree that was 1,000 years old up on its mountain back when the Renaissance began. But it does inspire awe.

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--Karin Klein

Photo: The giant sequoia lies across the popular Trail of 100 Giants at Sequoia National Forest, Calif. Credit: Sequoia National Forest

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