Op-Ed: With climate change, we may witness sequoia forests convert to chaparral
By the time she was 16, Susan Johnson had never seen a redwood tree. That changed one day in 1998.
The 6-foot-tall cedar had been growing in the San Gabriel Valley since the 1940s, Johnson said. But by the mid-1960s, it had begun to deteriorate. She saw some trees “losing half their limbs, and one was no more than a stick.”
That was it. She never saw any more trees like that.
“I don’t even remember what happened to those trees after that day,” she said.
Johnson, now 56, was driving home that day when she got a call from a friend telling her to look for a redwood in an area of Montebello. That’s where she met her husband, who was also looking to buy a tree to plant that same season.
“I started crying right there on the phone because it was the first time I ever saw a redwood tree,” she said. “I still cry. It was one of the most beautiful, most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.”
There were still plenty of trees. The couple had purchased 12 of them.
But a lot of them have been lost or weakened by insects, drought, bark beetles and other factors – and they are being cut down for firewood.
The San Gabriel Valley is under a chronic drought. The current record low for this season in the Los Angeles Basin is 44.6 inches; it has been below 33 inches in the past seven years.
The San Gabriel Valley, which gets 70 percent of its water from the Colorado River, is one of the most heavily-populated regions in the nation. Its dense population of more than a half a million people has turned a vast area of the forest into dryland prairies.
Most of the existing trees no longer have the energy to survive.
“We used to think that when the climate changed, the forests would die,” said James M