The free event is will be held Sunday

The Sequoia Parks Conservancy invites Southern California residents to a free program Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon in the state-of-the-art Moss Theater at New Roads School that will touch on topics pertinent to Sequoia National Park.

Using specialized goggles, attendees will be “transported” to the giant forest of Sequoia National Park — a place that is home to some of the largest trees in the world, including the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree by volume on Earth and stands 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter.

During the virtual tour, guests will learn about the effects that climate change is having on the nearly 200-foot tall trees and what park scientists are doing to manage the ancient sequoias in a rapidly changing environment, according to event organizers.

“The development of the virtual reality experience prompted us to put this event together,” said Tamara Marks, director of philanthropy at the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. “I think we also wanted to do this because climate change is such a hot topic right now. No pun intended, but it really is so relevant with the effect it’s having on California, the state’s national parks and the planet in general.”

Giant Sequoias are a large, long-lived pioneer species found on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Marks added in an email Thursday. The trees need fire to open their cones and create the mineral soil and high sunlight conditions that are necessary for seedling germination.

“Mature giant sequoia trees can live to be thousands of years old, and until recently their primary cause of death was falling over. However, today, giant sequoias face three major threats: burning up in high severity fires; being killed by drought-mediated insect attack (over 30 monarch sequoias have died this way within Sequoia National Park); and death due to other climate change-related impacts, such as moderate levels of winter snowpack,” Marks said.

Kylie Caraway, creator of the virtual reality project that will be showcased Sunday, said the upcoming program is less of a lecture and more of an art project mixed with science. After all, the “Mother of the Forest Virtual Reality project” was her Master of Fine Arts thesis project in college.

“I was interested in exploring how can we communicate environmental information using different types of media,” Caraway said in an interview Thursday. “I’ve always loved trees so I really wanted to work on the Sequoia Trees, because they’re this magnificent species. I read they were heavily impacted by climate change so it made sense to explore that.”

Caraway said the project highlights the experiences of the different species who reside in the national park.

“It’s about seeing the forest from different species’ perspectives, how they interact with the trees and how the behaviors are impacted by climate change,” Caraway said, describing the program as an introduction to the area’s ecology. “We’re going to have the 360-degree footage where people can download it on their phone and see the Sequoia forest in the park, and then we’ll have a virtual reality setup with a couple species’ perspectives — probably the squirrel and sequoia trees.”

The conservancy selected the Moss Theater at New Roads School to host the coming lecture partly because of the school’s emphasis on environmental education in their curriculum, according to Marks. “They were excited to partner and I think it’s a fulfilling and robust partnership that will continue beyond this one event.”

Along with Caraway, Sunday’s featured speakers also include Christy Brigham, the chief of resource management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Savannah Boiano, the conservancy’s executive director.

Marks said residents who are unable to attend Sunday’s program can still get involved in the fight to protect the trees by volunteering at the park or by donating to the Sequoia Parks Conservancy’s Sequoia Monitoring and Conservation Fund.

“In Sequoia National Park, volunteers monitor sequoia growth over time to help park managers understand if trees are growing more slowly or dying more quickly as our environment changes,” Marks said, mentioning 90% of donations directly support “the critical and crucial work being done at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to ensure giant sequoias stay healthy and given the opportunity to mature.”

brennon@smdp.com

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