Koko Panossian is on death watch.
The Glendale senior park services manager gingerly steps around fresh tree stumps, ghosts of 30-year-old coast redwood trees. His eyes meet the brown, scratchy limbs of two towering gentle giants.
“You see these ones here,” he said, pointing skyward. “They are stressed. They are struggling to stay green. They are struggling to survive.”
Bright yellow caution tape tied in a bow around the trunk of another redwood flaps in the breeze, catching his eye.
“That one we will take down. It is dead,” Panossian declared.
The city cut down 15 coast redwood trees from Verdugo Park in the past month. Ten more are on his watch list. But this is not just a problem in Glendale. These colossal columns of nature are dying throughout Southern California, victims of a prolonged drought, unseasonably hot winter temperatures and reduced irrigation from a state-mandated 25 percent water conservation order.
• Video: Redwoods dying in Glendale
In parks, along creek beds and in parkways, coast redwood trees were planted in Southern California for their shade and stunning beauty. Now, many are dying. Though arborists say their decline is a result of them being taken outside the cooler climates of central and northern California, new studies show even in those regions redwoods are showing signs of distress, raising the question: Do California’s coast redwoods — one of the state’s most iconic trees — portend worsening effects of rainfall shortages and climate change?
“They’ve been around for millions of years. But this is a pretty unprecedented event in the last four or five years,” said Ted Dawson, a UC Berkeley professor studying the effects of the drought on the redwoods in their native habitat. “Some of these trees will suffer because of that.”
While Dawson said the trees are not doomed, the redwoods in Big Sur, those near San Simeon, in the hills near the Central Valley and even in Northern California where his research teams have traveled are definitely feeling the effects of the state’s fourth year of drought, he said recently. As are California oak trees, an even more worrisome development because of the species’ drought-tolertant qualities.
“I think we will lose some trees. We will lose redwoods, and we will lose oaks, too. They are being pushed to their extremes,” said Dawson, a Cal professor of integrative biology and environmental science policy and management.