Climate Change and California’s Favorite Trees
Friday: How wildfires could threaten the coast redwood, the Joshua tree and the giant sequoia. Also: What to know about Californias contact tracing app. and They are Californias three plant species that attract crowds from around the world. Living in vastly different parts of the state, they are the only ones honored and protected by national parks in their name. What they have in common is mostly an ability to silently stand there and elicit a reaction. But 2020 was not a good year for the coast redwood, the Joshua tree or the . Already under long-term threat by the changing climate, took dramatic aim at the states most iconic trees. Gone are countless old-growth redwoods, thousands of ancient sequoias and an estimated 1.3 million Joshua trees (which, of course, are a yucca). In their place is a newfound sense of both dread and urgency among scientists and others who see these species as more than just plants. Over the past couple of months, I have accompanied some of the foremost experts of each species into the burn areas some still smoldering and off-limits to the public with the . What we found was, at turns, heartbreaking, surreal and hopeful. Heartbreaking because so many trees that had stood stoically in one place, some for thousands of years, were gone in an instant. As one scientist said amid a charred landscape, They are literally irreplaceable unless you have 2,000 years to wait. Surreal to see a desert turned the color of spent charcoal all the way to the horizon, or a lush green forest of rigid-straight redwoods turned into a jumble of blacks and browns. Hopeful because there are signs of life, if you look hard enough. The question that overwhelms you in these places right now is what we have lost, and what we have left to lose. The idea of linking the three species together began in August, when a desert wildfire whipped across more than 40,000 acres in Mojave National Preserve. All of us who live in California have become hardened by the perennial assault the past few years, the stories of forests aflame and people rushing out of the way (but not always, as we know too well). This struck me as something we had not seen before, and we hadnt: More than a million Joshua trees, torched. Within weeks, it seemed most of California was on fire. (In reality, it was about 4 percent of the state that burned in 2020.) The Sierra Nevada, home to a shrinking number of giant sequoias, took a big brunt of the blazes. Then fire rampaged through the Santa Cruz Mountains, and , home to 4,400 acres of old-growth redwoods. Just like that, all three of Californias favorite trees felt the wrath of wildfire, as never before. We are left to wonder what it all means for the trees, for our state, for the future. This story, with some dazzling visuals from Max and some of my talented colleagues at The Times, might help us think about all that. On Thursday, Californias new contact tracing system, , went live. If you missed Gov. Gavin Newsoms announcement, it is essentially a smartphone feature you can opt into that will notify you of potential coronavirus exposure by using Bluetooth to detect which phones have been within several feet of one another for a certain amount of time. If someone tests positive, that person should receive a code to enter into the app, which will then alert the phones that had been in proximity. As you might imagine, and as reported, , even if the tech is promising. Jennifer: Like a few other states, California is using the technology called Exposure Notifications Express from Apple and Google. The companies push notifications to everyones phones to encourage people to download the health departments exposure notification app or to change the phones settings to turn on the technology. California also did a pilot study . But in Arizona, there was a virus outbreak on campus in the beginning, and they estimated they were able to slow the rate of transmission with the help of these exposure alerts. In California, when the exposure alert technology was tested at the University of California, San Diego and the U.C.S.D. Health System, there was a small infection rate at the time. It was more difficult to get data on how much this flattened the curve when the curve was already flat. Jennifer: Not really. California is just big. Its a diverse state, so Im curious to see whether people use the technology. One way people should think about this virus alert technology is something that helps alleviate the burden on contact tracing by humans. If more people in California elect to use these alerts, maybe contact tracers can or should devote more time to people who arent aware of or able to use the smartphone alerts. Attorney General Heres how he could help make it happen. [ ] last month? The creator of a local website that waged war against local leaders and journalists, openly divorced from truth, is taking some credit. [ ] stuff and a lot of new stuff in general, as the House of Mouse leans hard into streaming. [ ] Confused about Heres what to know. [ ] Happy Hanukkah, if you celebrate. Whether or not you do, we wish you a restful, safe weekend. Spend it , if youre so inclined. is a Los Angeles-based reporter for the National desk covering California. is a sports reporter. He won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for a story about a deadly avalanche in Washington State, and is the author of three books, including Sidecountry, a collection of New York Times stories, in 2021.