The following is excerpted f rom Flames of Extinction by John Pickrell. Copyright © 2021 by the author. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C. As Christmas approached in 2019, David Crust, a director of park operations with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, watched with trepidation as multiple fires crept their way across the vastness of Wollemi National Park, northwest of Sydney, Australia. In fact, fires were then ablaze right across the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which Crust is responsible for. His entire team of 160 people battled to contain them and protect the townships they threatened. As the disaster intensified, the fire closed in on the secret location of a tiny population of critically endangered trees; prehistoric plants so precious that just a handful of people are privy to their exact whereabouts. The Wollemi pine, a conifer that grows to 40 meters [131 feet] and has unusually arranged, dark green foliage and bubbly bark, once flourished across the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, providing shade and sustenance for the dinosaurs. But over the eons, the range of this “living fossil” has contracted until just 100 or so mature trees remain, spread over four small groves […]

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