The Redwoods in Prehistory

One of the things I enjoy when I’m in England is playing “spot the redwood tree.” It’s really pretty easy. I once read that if you ascend any church steeple in England and scan the horizon, the tallest tree is likely to be a Sequoia wellingtoniagiant sequoia as we know them in the states.

Giant sequoias near Long Meg and her Daughters
Giant sequoia near Long Meg and her Daughters

While I have not been up a church steeple in many years, barely a day goes by when I’m in England that I don’t spot at least one towering giant sequoia. Now these are not the thousand-year-old monarchs you find in California’s great sequoia parks, but many are decent-sized trees that are pushing into their second century. I have a run I like to do from my parents’ house in northern England that passes a beautiful specimen by a Victorian house. I always stop to say hello.

But the most interesting sighting this time was of two decent-sized sequoias in a small copse by Long Meg and her Daughters. Long Meg is an ancient standing stone, and her daughters are ancient stones in a circle. William Wordsworth described them as second only to Stonehenge. They are in open country with views of the Lakeland Fells (high, barren fields) and Pennines mountains in the distance. Even today it feels like a power spot with deep roots.

Close up of Long Meg and her Daughters
Close up of Long Meg’s Daughters

Do you have a favorite redwood tree? Perhaps one that is outside the natural range of redwoods, maybe even one you have planted. Share your stories and photos with us here, or help us by loading their location into our Redwood Watch program so we can better understand where these remarkable trees grow today. Thank you!

[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, August 8, 2012]

Redwoods and Remembrance

I have spent the past week in England, not to attend the opening of the Olympics, but rather to attend my 90-year-old granny’s memorial service. As with all such occasions, the sadness of loss is mixed with the happiness of being with family and sharing memories.

Honor tree in Butano Redwoods State Park
I left England about 20 years ago, so really have only seen granny during family events and Christmas gatherings. She did visit me in California on several occasions—and each time we went to the redwoods. To Montgomery Woods, the Grove of Old Trees andButano State Park. These groves of towering giants—unlike any other places on Earth—left a lasting impression. One of her favorite photos was of her amid the redwoods at the Grove of Old Trees in Sonoma County.My oldest son who came with me cannot imagine anyone older than his “GG.” And even to me, she is my only real link to a Britain that went to war, survived bombs and rationing, and emerged into a bleak 1950s while America boomed. I choose to mark her memory and that of her husband Dick who died 21 years ago, by dedicating a tree at Butano Redwoods State Park in their memory through the League’s memorial program. It’s a place we went together. It’s a place that I have helped protect over my 15 years at the League through various land acquisitions. And it’s now a place I can take my sons to talk about their very English relatives. To me, being in the presence of these timeless giants and remembering past happy timesgrounds me and makes me feel alive, part of a larger world, and at peace.I’d love to know how the redwoods have helped you honor the memory of a loved one or cope with a loss. Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories below. Thanks for sharing.[first published on “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, July 7, 2012]

Can we halt animal extinction by restoring forests?

An article on the London-based Guardian website caught my eye last week. Having completed an exhaustive study in the Brazilian Amazon, scientists have determined that even if deforestation halted across the region overnight, dozens of species are doomed to disappear. To put it simply, when their homes are removed, the species can hang on for a while, but over time competition for food increases, breeding rates fall and a slow death sentence lingers over them. It makes for grim reading. But the story does end on a positive note: “to prevent species extinctions it is necessary to take advantage of the window of opportunity for forest regeneration. Restored forests . . . gradually recover species richness.”

Selection harvest in Mendocino County.
Selection harvest in Mendocino County. Photo by Suzette Cook

Nowhere is this truer than in the redwood forests, some of the most productive forests in the world. I also feel we are at a turning point in the history of the redwoods.

The story of the redwoods is a familiar one. In a little more than a century, 95 percent of the ancient forest was logged at least once. The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League. The extinction threat in the redwoods is very real, and species including the endangered marbled murreletnorthern spotted owl and wild coho salmon live with it daily.

Today across much of the landscape, the redwood forest is slowly recovering. This is happening in parks and reserves – places set aside for their natural qualities. For instance, atMill Creek the League and our conservation partners are 10 years into an ambitious program torestore wildness to this 25,000-acre former tree farm by removing roads and giving young forests a helping hand. And recovery is also underway on lands owned by the timber companies. Yes they still log – after all, most of us love wood, and personally I prefer to know that it comes from a responsibly managed forest that I can go and see, rather than some unknown far-off land. But California’s timber companies have fundamentally changed the way they log – for the better – and are also working to remove the scars from former bad practices, for instance by restoring salmon spawning habitat formerly blocked by culverts.

If we are to provide a lifeboat for these species to make it through the coming extinction threat, it is critical that we work together across whole landscapes. We can no longer separate the parks from the timberlands and think of them separately. After all, birds and fish can’t read our maps and make little distinction between a young forest in park and a young forest in timberland. If the past 100 years of redwood conservation have been defined by conflict and forest degradation, I am optimistic that the next 100 years will be defined by collaboration andrecovery. You can learn more about my outlook by reading the keynote I gave last year at the League-sponsored science symposium, The Coast Redwood Forests in a Changing California.

[first published on “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, July 7, 2012]

The Redwood Forest: A prescription for kids, adults

 

Last week up in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park I overheard two young boys: “Daddy, can I take a photo of the creek?” His older brother commented, “I don’t need a camera, I’m going to take a photo with my eyes.” Pretty profound for a conversation between two brothers under 7. And something I will remember next time I reach for my camera as a crutch for memories.

Headed down the trail

The parks, particularly the redwood parks, can capture kids’ attention. I camped with friends over July 4th (unfortunately not in the redwoods, but up at Plumas-Eureka in the Northern Sierra). After four days, my two boys were filthy. Rowan has a memory of his first fish to get away, and Emerson hasn’t asked to watch a movie on his mother’s iPhone for days. It’s just fun and discovery from dawn to dusk. Questions abound, “Is there less oxygen on the freeway because there are no trees?” About bugs, “Is a leach an insect even though it has no legs?”

A lot has been written recently about the importance of kids’ and adults’ connection to nature. The book, The Nature Principle, is an example. Physical and mental health are just the start. Some enlightened doctors are even starting to write “prescriptions for visiting parks.” Spend a few days watching six kids under 5 play around camp, and you know it’s all true.

So as the summer grips us, I hope you find the time to get away and have fun in the redwoods and parks. I’d love to hear about your summer plans and memories of fun times past. Oh, and please forgive me for writing this on my iPhone while I was swinging in my hammock between two Sierra trees. Not a good role model, I know.

[first published on “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, July 10, 2012]

Redwoods’s Magic Shines amid Crisis

After a year of anguish, hard work and some heartbreak, the headlines scream “no parks will close.” Well,except for the five that will. And the ones that will be closed during the week, or off-season. And some haveno ranger patrols and locked bathrooms. Oh, and it’sonly for a year, and then we’re back to square one. What’s that all about?

"Big Tree" in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

At the 11th hour, the California Legislature cobbled together $10 million in fund transfers that — when combined with the operating and donor agreements developed by local nonprofits—will ensure most parks stay open. The League and our members are helping in three of these parks. Our approach speaks to our long history with these parks and the long-term perspective that we take from the redwoods themselves. We’re looking past the next 12 months to identify park enhancements and new modes of working that can help turn the downward trajectory we’ve been on for a generation.

I visited one simple example of an enhancement last weekend at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. For years, the aptly named “Big Tree” has drawn visitors. But all those visitors were trampling the roots and damaging the bark. There’s now a new viewing platform, courtesy of one generous family. It both protects the tree and provides a focal point for visitors. Last Saturday I sat and listened to the families and friends visiting and taking pictures by this iconic tree as the ranger prepared to give an interpretive talk. I spoke with two men on Harleys from Ohio who rode across the country to see these giants.

“Oh man, wait until we tell our buddies about this place—they just won’t believe it,” they said. Amidst the doom and gloom of parks, it was refreshing to see the redwoods being appreciated for what they are: world-class icons that take your breath away.

[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, July 3, 2012]