California's Redwoods And Condors Hit By Growing Wildfires Growing wildfires have overtaken old-growth redwoods and endangered condor nests, but biologists say they could survive.

Wildfires Hit California's Redwoods And Condors, But There's Still Hope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Wildfires in Northern California have burned through several redwood forests, causing concern that the ancient giants and endangered wildlife could be lost. But scientists say there are reasons to be hopeful they'll survive, as NPR's Lauren Sommer reports.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: At 3 a.m. on Friday morning, biologist Kelly Sorenson was awake. He was nervously watching a live video feed of an endangered California condor chick sitting in its nest as the Dolan fire swept in.

KELLY SORENSON: To have to watch the fire burn right through that canyon, it was just terrifying.

SOMMER: At a few months old, the chick can't fly yet, and four other nests are in the path of the fires, too.

SORENSON: None of those chicks in these nests can be rescued, nor can the parents do anything about it. They just have to hope to survive it.

SOMMER: Sorenson is executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which is trying to bring these massive birds back from the brink of extinction. There were just 27 left in 1987. Thanks to captive breeding, there are 100 on California's central coast now. So every condor counts.

SORENSON: Even just four or five birds would be a huge loss. It's just really nerve-wracking right now just not knowing.

SOMMER: But Sorensen says he's hopeful they're alive because it happened before after a wildfire in 2008.

SORENSON: It's just such a horrific fire. And sure enough, this chick survived. And we named it Phoenix.

SOMMER: It was protected by a redwood tree, and redwoods are prepared for fire.

KRISTEN SHIVE: They're going to look a little bit hammered, but they'll most likely make it. You know, they're pretty tough.

SOMMER: Kristen Shive is science director for the Save the Redwoods League. She says while no one's been able to check the trees yet, she's not too worried, especially about the giant trees - hundreds of years old.

SHIVE: They have bark that, on an old growth tree, can be up to a foot thick, which really insulates their living tissues from the heat of the fire.

SOMMER: Even a redwood tree that's completely charred can still resprout from its base. But some redwood forests have denser vegetation than they used to because for much of the last century, most wildfires were put out by firefighters. Shive says land managers need to use low-grade fires in the winter to clear that out and reduce the fuel for extreme fires.

SHIVE: I think we've just seen in this last week that this warmer and drier future is - I mean, it's already upon us, and it's going to continue to get worse. And so I'd like to see us think ahead about that resilience.

SOMMER: Redwoods may be tough, but in a hotter climate, everything has its limits.

Lauren Sommer, NPR News.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.