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Giant sequoia is latest victim of drought

Phjoto by Lee Juillerat Klamath Falls Parks Director John Bellon examines the trunk of the fallen sequoia.

KLAMATH FALLS — It’s not just the fish and the farmers who are thirsty.

A towering giant sequoia tree — its water-starved core, limbs and branches obviously dead and dying from the ongoing drought — tumbled to the ground Thursday at Kit Carson Park in Klamath Falls.

“Excellent,” Tom Ford, the arborist who carefully and deliberately felled the tree so that it landed between smaller trees, a play area and other potential obstacles, said of the tree’s landing.

It was a process that began earlier this week when Ford, owner of Shasta View Tree Service, calculated a way to create a safe landing zone for the giant redwood, or Sequoiadendron giganteum, which he estimated was more than 80 feet tall.

The felling was done in cooperation with the city of Klamath Falls, which owns and manages the 288-acre park located alongside the Crater Lake Parkway. John Bellon, city parks manager/arborist, has been working with Ford over the years and was on hand to watch the felling.

“It’s been in decline for a couple of years,” Bellon said of the sequoia, one of about eight in the park. “This is a really, really stressful place for trees to grow. After repeated droughts, I realized we were not going to have water allocations.”

Historically, surface water from the nearby A Canal has been used to irrigate trees in the park. But because of the ongoing drought, and because city parks have the lowest priority among water users, water deliveries have been sparse in recent year. The tree’s location, which Bellon and Ford described as a “wind tunnel,” was also a factor.

The fallen tree will find new uses. By Thursday afternoon, three large logs were delivered to Chris Cook of Cook Woods, who will eventually use the exotic wood for to-be-determined purposes. Ford and his team — Ford’s wife, Kathy Benson, and J.R. Bradshaw — delimbed the grounded sequoia and immediately fed them into a chipper. The chips will be used in the park as mulch for other trees and plants. Ford said the wood is not good for firewood. The site was cleared and cleaned, with no evidence of the falling.

Bellon said the park, for many years with open fields that were sparsely used for soccer, baseball and softball, is being redeveloped as a more water-resilient “forest park.” In recent years the park’s landscaping has been redesigned with more shade trees. Recreational facilities, including a zip line, rock climbing wall, slides, spider web, sand boxes, walking paths and an adjacent dog park, have made the park a popular, heavily used family-friendly destination.

Avoiding those potential obstacles was something Ford prepared for. Ford, who like Bellon has watched the sequoia’s decline for several years, earlier in the week made carefully planned preliminary cuts to its trunk. While Ford directed operations, Benson and Bradshaw used a winch attached to a rope tied high up the tree to gradually force it to topple down.

The old sequoia no longer stands tall. But in coming days and months it will find new life and new uses.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.