Park Service should not hasten death of Big Trees

Speaking Out by Charlie Castro

(Published September 11, 2009 in the Kaweah Commonwealth)

For some folks, seeing or just knowing that a giant sequoia has fire in its crown and its limbs are crashing to the forest floor below is enough to evoke tears of sadness and stir deep emotions. To witness the death of one of these majestic monarchs is a tragedy that anybody who witnesses it will ever forget.
—from “Monarch burns in Crescent Meadow,” THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH, Aug. 28, 2009

This is being written to follow up on THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH’s article (“Monarch burns in Crescent Meadow”). I know that this has happened more than one time in our parks.

The National Park Service’s goal is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” All efforts should be made to protect every large, majestic sequoia tree, the defective and non-defective. The recently burned giant sequoia — even though it was an unnamed monarch with structural weakness — may have survived this fire.

Prescribed fire: Utilize it wisely. The original objective of the prescribed-fire program was to examine the role of fire in the reproduction of the giant sequoia. It is now used in other parks and agencies for the reduction of accumulated fuels.

Prescribed fire is now part of the process to remove tree litter and duff from the forest floor. It is used to remove brush and other accumulated fuels in our lower oak woodland forests. It is used to help balance the mixed conifer species, mainly the fast-growing white fir in giant sequoia groves. It affects the succession of sequoia seedlings, survival, and reproduction. It is a major tool used to lower the possibility of a major wildfire.

Prescribed fire is a great program when planned and executed within strict prescribed-burning procedures and guidelines. It allows fire personnel to plan, prep, and ignite burns in specific locations at the correct time of year.  This is the time for management and fire personnel to thoroughly inspect a burn site, to identify potential hazards and, hopefully, plan ignition methods around the base of standing monarchs, especially the named ones.

All is good when fire is used at the right time of the year and at the right elevation for specific fuels. To ignore these factors and misunderstand burning prescriptions can turn a planned prescribed burn into a raging wildfire.

From the time I started in the “prescribed fire” program at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I was involved in small half-acre to one-acre burn plots in giant sequoia groves. That was in 1964, and it was not called prescribed fire. Prescribed fire began a couple of years later to continue and support the giant sequoia ecology program.

It was very hard for me to change my years of training in fire suppression to the introduction of fire, however, both practices were highly beneficial during my years with the federal fire management project team.

Managed fire was first introduced by Richard J. Hartesveldt, Ph.D. He was concerned about the effects of human impact on giant sequoias and their environment in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park. He studied those impacts and, in 1962, shifted his studies to Sequoia-Kings Canyon . The following year, he and his partner, Dr. H. Thomas Harvey, discussed the issues and many facets of giant sequoia ecology. In 1964, they were joined by Dr. Howard S. Shellhammer and, in 1966, by Dr. Ronald E. Stecker.  This ecology research team from San Jose State University is a pioneer in the use of prescribed fire and giant sequoia reproduction. I am very proud to have worked with this team (1964 to 1974), where I conducted all the high climbing, as well as the rigging of an elevator in a 287-foot giant sequoia; these efforts being accomplished for the preservation of all giant sequoias.

It is inevitable that all living things will eventually die. But giant sequoias are some of the oldest living things on earth. Let’s not hasten their termination.

CHARLES E. CASTRO is a 45-year resident of Three Rivers. He is a Native American who was born in Yosemite Valley, where he began a career with the National Park Service that spanned more than 40 years. In 1964, Charlie transferred to Sequoia-Kings Canyon as the forestry foreman, where he worked until his retirement in 1995.
In 1965, he received an NPS Special Achievement Award for saving a giant sequoia from fire. In 1967, he received his second Special Achievement Award for his efforts in saving the California Tree from fire.

Charlie also plays drums for the world-famous High Sierra Jazz Band.

Learn about gardening with California Native Plants on Oct 3 in Three Rivers


Sponsored by the Alta Peak Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
October 3   Saturday   9 am to 1 pm

Three Rivers Art Center
Just North of off HWY 198 on North Fork Drive in Three Rivers

plantsale1Locally grown shrubs and trees, perennials, wild grasses, and bulbs will be offered for our annual native plant sale. Come early if you have not pre-ordered. CNPS members will be available with suggestions about how and where to plant, mulching, and answers for special gardening questions.  Plants are provided by Intermountain Nursery in Prather and California Native Nursery in Porterville. Books and posters will be available for your purchase inside the Arts Center.

CNPS VOLUNTEERS NEEDED !  Please help with plant sale on both October 2 with the delivery of the plants and Oct 3 for sale itself.
Call Janet Fanning 561-3461 for information & to volunteer.

FALL PROGRAM for Alta Peak Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
October 3  Saturday  2 pm
Three Rivers Art Center


“Finding Connection in Nature”

with John Muir (Jack) Laws

John Muir said “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”  Join us for an exciting afternoon of appreciation of some of the most astounding and unappreciated species in the Sierra Nevada. In this illustrated lecture, John (Jack) Muir Laws (no relation to the other John Muir) will help us follow a series of astounding relationships between plants and animals in the Sierra Nevada. You will be delighted and amazed by the subtle and essential threads that connect species. You can find many of these species on a mountain hike with your friends or family and share the stories with them. Jack will also discuss some of the conservation challenges in the Sierra Nevada and what stewards of nature are doing to confront them. Whether you’re a botanist, birder or backpacker, don’t miss this opportunity to enrich your next exploration of the Range of Light!

Jack Laws is a naturalist, environmental educator and author and illustrator.  He has worked as an environmental educator for over 25 years in California, Wyoming, and Alaska.  He teaches classes on natural history, conservation biology, scientific illustration, and field sketching. He is trained as a wildlife biologist and is a research associate of the California Academy of Sciences. His illustrations capture the feeling of the living plant or animal, while also including details critical for identification.

Jack is the author and illustrator of Sierra Birds: a Hiker’s Guide and The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. This pocket-sized field guide contains 2,710 original watercolor paintings of more than 1,700 species in the Sierra. He is also a regular contributor to Bay Nature magazine with his “Naturalists Notebook” column. Jack is deeply committed to stewardship of nature and collaborates with organizations throughout the state.

Jack initiated Following Muir’s Footsteps, an educational program to engender passionate love of nature, personal understanding of natural history and commitment to stewardship. This program gets students out in the field, learning from their own observations and using field guides and nature journals as the basis for discovering nature around them. As a part of this project, he is working secure funding to donate sets of field guides to every middle and high school in the Sierra Nevada. Read details about this program at

“From an early age, my parents instilled in me a deep love of nature and an insatiable curiosity. Nature exploration has opened my eyes to a world of beauty and wonder that has grown into a deep commitment to stewardship.”  …John Muir Laws


The Three Rivers Environmental Weekend is also happening on October 3 at the same location.  More information here. The Three Rivers Green Home Tour will be on October 4.

The future of the Park and the Trees and the Culture

from Visalia Times Delta article by Brett Wilkison interviewing Bill Tweed,
published September 19, 2009

Three Rivers resident Bill Tweed worked 28 years in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, including 10 years as the parks’ chief naturalist. His forthcoming book, “Uncertain Path: The Future of National Parks”— due out next summer from University of California Press — looks at the challenges the now 93-year-old park system faces in this century and beyond….

But you’re still optimistic about the future of national parks?

My reason for optimism is that more than almost anything else that America does, the national parks inspire us to do good things. That actually is going to be the message of Ken Burns. He uses this famous quote from a man named James Bryce, who was the British ambassador to the United States back in the early 20th century. He said the national parks were “the best idea America ever had.”

In terms of inspiring behavior, in terms of inspiring good things in America, national parks have always done that. They bring us together in all kinds of ways. American people support them and the idea has spread world wide. Parks have periodically challenged us to reinvent ourselves. Parks teach us things because they are our natural laboratories and we learn things as we work in parks and try to manage them. Parks have a profoundly positive impact on us as a people. It goes way beyond the economic impact, which is the quick one. But there’s really a much bigger national effect. It affects our whole national culture. I think that’s appropriate because not only am I saying it but, Ken Burns, you add up all 12 hours of his film, that’s what he will have said. It’s not new to me and its not new to him. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time. And it’s true.

bildeVisitors can look out to a meadow filled with wildlife
from the porch at the Wolverton picnic area.

photo:  Steve R. Fujimoto

Three Rivers Environmental Weeked coming on Oct 3-4


  • OCT 3  Sat  9-5 pm  Three Rivers Arts Center

Presentations on the Environment including:

Bee colony collapse and honey-making,  All about owls, Solar cooking
Book-signing History of Yokohl Valley by Scott Barker, Home and garden art
Information on green home options, Wastewater treatment innovations
Native plant gardening, Community Supported Agriculture, Free door prizes

Saturday activities collaborate with the California Native Plant Society with a native plant sale, from 9-1 pm, in the back courtyard of the Arts Center, and the Alta Peak Chapter Fall Program presented at 2 pm by John Muir Laws, teacher, artist and author of the Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada.

All of Saturday’s events are free and open to all.
Arts Center–turn north off HWY 198 on North Fork Drive in Three Rivers

  • OCT 4  Sunday starting at 12 noon and 1 pm

Three Rivers Green Home Tour featuring five homes with:

Passive and active solar water and home heating
Radiant slab floors
Insulated concrete forms
Sod roof
Rice straw bale construction
Two historic adobe homes, including a windmill, and cistern
Lavender gardens

Tickets $15 per person, $25 per couple. Call 561-4676 to reserve space.

Read Mona Selph’s beautiful essay for the Green Home Tour.

Proceeds go to Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth

The Environmental Weekend is organized and sponsored by the TREW CREW, a group of concerned citizens living in Three Rivers.

Print an 8.5×11 inch flier.

Storm over Yokohl Valley, 30×40” oil © 2009 Mona Fox Selph all rights reserved

What do your National Parks mean to you?

The National Park Foundation held a video contest this summer, inviting ordinary folks to make videos of their summer adventures in a National Park.
They asked these questions:
What do America’s National Parks mean to you — how do they inspire you?
Why are they important?
Why should we protect them?

We hope this “first-ever” video challenge becomes an annual event.
Read about Sequoia National Park on the Foundation’s website here.


___________ Video links below ___________

My favorite:
Go Back In An Instant…
by Robin and Steve from New York City

Young voices singing and talking about the natural world:
Into the Wild
by Kate
Lands They Walked Upon
by TC Cairns

Views of Sequoia National Park:
Sequoia Nat’l Park – The Land of Giants
by Katharine
Sierra Nevada Mountains
by Sean

Planning for the Future:
Ancient Forest National Park Proposal
by Alden
“An Ancient Forest National Park is proposed for Northern California and Southern Oregon to biologically join together wilderness areas, roadless areas, a national recreation area and wild and scenic rivers into one cohesive land management unit for the protection of ancient forest plants, animals and fish. The proposal is to set aside a solid block of land approximately 2.5 million acres from the Rogue River in Oregon to the Trinity River in California. It will forever allow the free migration of species from the coast and Redwood National Park to semi arid inland canyons. The park would include already established wilderness areas and already designated critical wildlife areas along with unprotected roadless areas. Very little of the acres included are private land and most of it is very steep and uninhabited. Vast as it may seem, during the Clinton presidency, two national monuments were designated of similar size and scope, one in Arizona and one in Utah. The area proposed as Ancient Forest National Park is vast, but for the survival of species in this era of climate change and major fires, it needs to be. There has to be room for the constant change in habitat types that comes with what is truly wild.”

Dinner at Seven Sycamores Ranch

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a great way to get fresh fruits and vegetables, often organic crops from local farmers, delivered right to your front door.  Our neighborhood is served by Family Farm Fresh offered by McKellar Farms at the Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch in Ivanhoe, California.  Find great recipes and keep up with the latest information at the Family Farm Fresh blog.

Bob McKellar filling a bountiful basket
Bob McKellar filling a bountiful basket

You can choose the basket size that best suits your family. Your basket will contain a variety of in season fruits, vegetables, herbs and farm products, and you can choose from four different size baskets ranging in price from just under $20 a week, up to the large family basket at $47 per week, plus a modest delivery charge. Family Farm Fresh serves the towns of Visalia, Tulare, Ivanhoe, Woodlake, Exeter, Lemon Cove, Porterville, Lindsay, Elderwood, Pixley, Strathmore, Farmersville, Cutler, Hanford, Lemoore, Orosi, Three Rivers, Springville, Dinuba, and Kingsburg. Join Family Farm Fresh here.

Special event on September 17: Dinner on the Farm

You must RSVP by September 10.  Call 798-0557, ext 106 to order tickets which are $15 for members, $20 for non-members, with children under seven free. Dinner is from 6-8:30 pm and includes a hayride around the farm and a visit to only orange tree maze in the country. You can learn more about Family Farm Fresh.

National Park Service Night Sky Team

It is so important for Three Rivers, and other foothill residents, to be sensitive about keeping the night sky dark. Please don’t put up bright lights that stay on all night. Use motion sensors so that lights are on only when needed! Be aware of the privilege we have been given to live in a place where we can see the Milky Way and all those beautiful stars for wishing.

Several years ago, Los Angeles had a blackout and residents could see the night sky for the very first time.  There was an avalanche of calls made to 911 with people reporting UFO’s and expressing great fear about all the lights in the sky!

What are Lightscapes? Read more here….

Did you know? Two–thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and 99% of the population live in an area that scientists consider light polluted. The rate at which light pollution is increasing will leave almost no dark skies in the contiguous US by 2025.


A Dark Sky Over Sequoia National Park
[360 panoramic skyview from Mount Whitney, Summer 2009]
D. Duriscoe, C. Duriscoe, R. Pilewski, & L. Pilewski,
US National Park Service Night Sky Program

from the NPS website….about the Night Sky Team

The NPS Night Sky Team was formed in 1999 to address increasing alarm over the loss of night sky quality throughout the network of national parks; the team set out to quantify light pollution at four California parks.

To accomplish this, the team developed instrumentation and methods for measuring the brightness of the night sky and identifying light pollution sources.  Data inventories have now been collected at a number of NPS units. Team members often work closely with park staff who have taken initiative in protecting natural lightscapes. Though originally focused on the human visual perception of the night sky, capabilities have been broadened to include artificial light impacts to wildlife, cultural resource issues, facility lighting, and night sky interpretation.


See these lovely constellation art pieces…
night sky art
by Brooklyn artist, Jessica Marquez


Sequoia monarch has major fire damage in Crescent Meadow

from Kaweah Commonwealth August 28, 2009 issue

“For some folks seeing or just knowing that a giant sequoia has fire in its crown and its limbs are crashing to the forest floor below is enough to evoke tears of sadness and stir deep emotions. To witness the death of one these majestic monarchs is a tragedy nobody who witnesses it will ever forget.
So this week, when it was discovered that a giant sequoia, perhaps thousands of years old, was engulfed in flame as a result of a prescribed burn near Crescent Meadow, there were several calls to the Commonwealth voicing a collective plea to look into this latest burning of another Big Tree.
Since the accidental burning of the Washington Tree in 2003 during a prescribed fire, then listed as the second largest tree in the world, park policy on the protection of named trees is very specific.

‘We protect named trees from fire unless it is a safety issue,’ said Deb Schweizer, parks fire education specialist. ‘Apparently, the tree in question was an unnamed monarch that already had a structural weakness that allowed fire easily to get in.’
Deb explained that like all organic things, these trees die as a part of the life cycle and during their lifetimes are changed by natural processes including fire.

‘Fire has created several trees that visitors love to see like Tharp’s Log, the Chimney Tree, and Tunnel Log to name a few examples,’Deb said. ‘This process is continuing now and will create the next generation of hollowed trees that attract visitors.’
The recent burning near Crescent Meadow was the aftermath of a 64-acre prescribed burn that was ignited the first week of August. Fires of this size and scope generally are permitted to creep and smolder in the forest until they are doused by an extended period of precipitation.”


note from blog editor: On August 20,  I personally witnessed this Sequoia tree on fire with huge flames coming out its crown, large smoke plumes and large pieces of the tree falling to the ground. Loud cracks and pops could be heard throughout Crescent Meadow. It was a stunning site…

Three Rivers Environmental Weekend

Three Rivers Environmental Weekend
(with Native Plant Sale)

Saturday, October 3, 2009
Three Rivers Arts Center

Saturday’s event will start at 9 am with the California Native Plant Society’s Alta Peak Chapter annual fall native plant sale outside the Arts Center, and inside exhibits and information,  featuring a Chapter Fall program by artist/scientist John Muir Laws at 2 pm.  He spent 7 years in the field sketching and doing research for his spectacular Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, and gives an inspiring presentation.  We hope to have at least one other author there, Scott Barker, who recently published a history of Yokohl Valley.  The Sequoia Kings Natural History Association will be selling books as well, and Sequoia National Park, in the person of Annie Esperanza, will have rolling videos about the environment.   We will have a variety of information tables and booths, including Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth, Family Farm Fresh, builders and designers to retrofit your home, or build new.  Lori Werner will have an exhibit table “All About Owls”, which the kids and adults should find interesting.   We also are working on a home and garden art and decoration booth or two outside under the trees or canopies.  We hope to feature some of our fine local artists.  There’s lots more in progress, and of course Bill Becker and his famous solar cooking demonstration will again be right up front


The Three Rivers Green Home Tour
Sunday October 4

“Mud Bricks, Straw Bales, and Whatever Works”
by Mona Fox Selph

It is estimated that about half of the world’s population still lives in some sort of earth home.  The material is accessible and cheap, such homes provide good insulation from the elements, and they don’t burn.  There are many ways to build with earth, but the most ancient dwellings were probably wattle and daub, or branches and sticks plastered with mud.  Adobe is another very old method.  It requires from 15 to 30 percent clay, sand or soil, and often straw is incorporated.

In the southwestern USA, building with adobe has long been practiced since it is the perfect climate.  To have permanence, adobe requires a long hot and dry season to evaporate out the moisture it accumulates in the damper, wetter months.  It traditionally also requires overhangs to protect it from rain, and/or yearly re-plastering with adobe.

The oldest continually occupied building in our country is the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.  It is a multi cellular adobe structure with many individual rooms built side by side up to five stories high.  Large timbers called vigas support floors and roofs.  In the old days, entry was from the roof using ladders.  People have lived there for over a thousand years.

Three Rivers has some beautiful old adobes, although they are new in comparison to Taos Pueblo.  There are also many other varieties of buildings friendly to the environment here, and interested residents will soon have the opportunity to visit five of them.  The Green Home Tour began over three years ago with a small study group on global warming, and as they say, the rest is history.  It was so worthwhile and so much fun that we are still doing it!   I am writing about the Green Home Tour put on by the TREW Crew as we now call ourselves, that is the Three Rivers Environmental Weekend Crew.

The first year we toured six wonderful homes in Three Rivers, donating proceeds to Habitat for Humanity’s green building fund.   Last year we car-pooled down to the valley where we toured five structures in Visalia and one in Elderwood, donating proceeds to Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth.  That group will also be the recipient this year, when we will come home again to Three Rivers with five homes on the list.

For the 2009 Tour, the first home is a new construction, nearly completed as I write this.  The dwelling is small and efficient, with well insulated walls, ceilings and windows. The heated floor is plumbed for future conversion to solar heated water.   Solar panels are also planned to heat household water.  Built on acreage with an incredible view of the mountains and sky, the owner, Bill Becker, has set aside a prime spot for his telescope, as well as a spot for his famous highly efficient solar cooker.

The second home is the straw bale house we toured two years ago when it was under construction.  At that stage, it was roofed but unfinished, so that we could see the details of construction, even things such as the lovely faded blue color of the recycled jeans used for attic insulation.  Besides the extremely thick insulating walls, a large number of green ideas were being incorporated wherever possible,  from passive solar components to light tubes.  This year, tour guests will get to see how the house works as a finished dwelling for owners Hillary Dustin and Kay Woods.

In the Cherokee Oaks community, Tom and Lisa McGinnes will show their owner built Insulated Concrete Form home.  It uses exterior solar panels to heat the floor, and for other purposes.  They incorporated as many energy saving ideas into the home as possible from the ground up.

The last two homes are adobe.  Rick Badgley and Martha Widmann’s beautiful home is nestled in a cool and shady draw below the Catholic retreat complex.  The house is actually two buildings, the older original one and a second structure Rick added as a master bedroom and bath.  This one uses a different method of adobe construction, and Rick will show forms and explain how it is done.  A short distance away, Rick built a studio for Martha, who is a wonderful painter and graphic designer.  Rick is a skilled craftsman in the construction of fine furniture and cabinets.  He built his shop into the hillside above, where the earth insulates it from weather.  The domed roof is sod, and here again, Rick will explain construction methods.

The fifth house is the family home of Barbara Lahman, known for her lavender gardens.  Her grandfather, Jim Livingston, finished the original adobe structure in 1938 using a guide put out by the Department of Agriculture.  The walls are eighteen inches thick.  An eight foot deep porch fronts the sixty foot south face of the house.  The front door is hand hewn redwood, as are 4×4 beams and window frames.  Windows and doors allow for cross breezes, and movable wood shutters cover the windows.  The house was supplied with gravity flow water until 1999, and a well pump now pumps water into a rock walled covered reservoir.  The old windmill still stands.  She and her husband built a second home on the property where their daughter resides.

As it was last year, the tour is registered as part of the ASES National Solar tour, the largest grass roots solar energy event in America.  You can compare it to other such tours in California (we are one of only sixteen) by going to  Click on “find tours”, and then on California.

The donation is $15 per person, or $25 per couple. To register for the tour that starts at 12 noon, phone 559-561-4676.  For the one o’clock tour, phone 559-561-4149.   Participants should bring snacks and water.  We will meet for car pooling at Valley Oak Credit Union.

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