The protected giants

Imagine a single tree containing 500,000 board feet of lumber—enough for 35 new homes—and free of branches for at least two thirds of its height. This lumberman's dream will always remain just that, through, for the giant sequoia is protected.

One of two sequoia species remaining of the dozen or so that once grew in North America (the other is the commercial coast redwood), the Sequoiadendron giganteum are among the oldest and largest living things. Yet, there aren't many of them.

What remains of the giant sequoia can be found in some 70 groves of from five to 1,000 trees in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. You'll find the largest concentration of trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The largest giant sequoia—at 275' tall with a 3612 ' base diameter—grows in Sequoia National Park. It's estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.

How can a tree live so long? The giant sequoia boasts a high tannin content that deters insect and fungus infestations. The tree also does not have pitch tubes through which fungi could penetrate. Fire, wind, and lightning take their toll, though, and an eroding soil base frequently cases it to topple.

Long before the giant sequoias became protected, lumbermen had pretty much given up on them anyway. Not only is their home the high elevations, but the wood's brittleness meant great loss of it in the felling.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson