Tag Archives: coast redwood

Hyperion – they don’t come bigger than this!

Hyperion. To some the legendary father of the sun, the moon and the dawn. To some, the tallest tree in the world.  To the millions who live in Los Angeles, it’s the sewage treatment plant at the end of the pipe. And to me, it will forever be a place that brings two parts of my life together.

Mayor Garcetti opens a new education center at Hyperion
Mayor Garcetti opens a new education center at Hyperion

On September 16th 2006 I schlepped Steve Sillet’s crossbow through the woods as he set out to document this record-breaking redwood for the first time. Until that point no-one really knew how tall the tree was. Steve’s work documented it as a record-breaker at 379.1 feet tall (that’s 115.55 meters). What was remarkable about the tree is that it narrowly escaped being cut down before being protected in Redwood National Park in 1978. I clearly remember being sat in that remote grove as Steve and his team went about their painstaking work. It was a magical place. So quiet and remote with beautiful trees all around.

Roll the clock forward a few years and on September 16th 2013, I found myself sat out by the beach under a hot sun with Hyperion — the municipal sewage plant for LA at my back. It was my first day on the job at Heal the Bay and I had come to where it all started. I was part of the crowd of city officials, environmentalists, and citizens come to watch the new Mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti, dedicate a brand new education center at what I learned is the second largest septic plant in the United States.

Back in 1985 a group of concerned citizens were tired off the endless pollution pouring into Santa Monica bay, killing fish and sickening people. Organized by Dorothy Green, they founded Heal the Bay, which for 28 years has worked tirelessly for clean beaches and water in Southern California.  Their first fight was to stop untreated wastewater from Hyperion being dumped into the bay. They won that battle and many more since then.

Today, the greatest threats to our coastal waters and watersheds, and to all of us – both human and animal – that rely on the ocean for pleasure, income or sustenance, come from urban and stormwater runoff, plastic pollution, and the ever-increasing stresses to our marine environment from over-fishing and climate change.  Together, these threaten to impair the bay and ocean just as untreated wastewater from Hyperion did all those years ago. Unfortunately the solutions are no longer as simple as as a new septic plant. They require us to be thinking and working throughout the watershed and at policies at both the local and state-wide level.

When I need inspiration,  I will return to this day and to Hyperion that brought so many threads together. From the towering redwood to the sewage treatment plant. At their core both are a story of how people stood up to protect places they care about and in the process changed the course of history.

Muir Woods

What’s up with Archangel?

This tiny seed contains the genetic code to grow a new coast redwood
This tiny seed contains the genetic code to grow a new coast redwood

David Milarch is at it again: evangelizing about the need to clone super trees to save the world from climate change. This time he has taken his message across the atlantic and touched down in Britain. According to an article in the Observer, he’s backed by Richard Branson,  the founder of the Eden project, and is even meeting with Prince Charles’ forestry advisors. I hope these luminaries see Mr. Milarch and his Archangel project for what it is: a distraction from the real issues facing forests around the world.

Mr. Milarch came and met with me a number of years ago while I was running Save the Redwoods League. His offer was simple: join him in saving the redwoods through cloning.  As an aside, he went on to say if we didn’t join him he’d make the League irrelevant as he would be the savior of the redwoods.  Despite the fact I don’t like veiled threats, I listened and we talked. Then as now, I had concerns about his approach and ultimately  declined to join his project.

Since then, Archangel has been racing to clone super trees that plant in groves around the world. They theorize that because these champion trees have survived for so long they are our best bet to reforest the Earth and soak up all the excess carbon dioxide we continue to emit.  For me, that is taking the science a step too far.  Forest conservation and management have an important role to play in the fight against climate change. But putting all our eggs in the cloning basket is just too risky. Clones are, by definition, genetically identical. A disease that takes out one will take out them all. And just because an individual tree has survived what nature has thrown at if for the past 1,000 years doesn’t mean its best adapted for the novel conditions coming in the next 100 years, let alone next 1,000 years.  Much better to protect the rich genetic diversity of all forests, rather than focus on a few superlatives.

12 people stand on the Fieldbrook stump with room to spare
12 people stand on the Fieldbrook stump with room to spare

Without a doubt Archangel has done some interesting work. Take the example of the Fieldbrook stump. Perhaps the largest redwood ever to live, and now a decaying stump in farmland near Arcata California. Archangel has resurrected this tree and plans to plant clonal copies around the world. It would be a talking point to have a copy in your garden for sure! The cloning work itself is interesting, but by no means ground-breaking — gardeners have been cloning plants and trees with cuttings for centuries after all.

So by all means support the work of Mr. Millarch and Archangel, but please don’t lose sight of what it really is:  Creating museum copies of a small handful of nature’s wonders. If you really want to help the Earth’s forests and battle climate change there are much better places to invest your money.

Read my previous post on cloning here: http://wp.me/p2V0ap-8Q

California’s Arboreal Triangle

California is a wonder land for tree lovers: in fact about 45 per cent of the state is covered with forests. The diversity is remarkable and that alone might be enough to set California apart. But what really makes California unique is that it is home to three world record beaters. It’s home to the tallest (a 379′ coast redwood in Redwood National Park), the most massive (the 52,506 cubic foot General Sherman Giant Sequoia), and the oldest trees (a 5,063 year old Bristlecone Pine). Not only are these record-breaking trees, but they are really record breaking organisms.   Hang on, some will say, but what about that the aspen grove dated to 80,000 years, or the Creosote bush in the Mojave dated to 11,700 year? But I say, there’s something special about a single organism that has survived that long and grown unimpeded for centuries. This record-breaking Arboreal Triangle is truly an international treasure worthy of protection.

This past weekend I returned to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest high in the White Mountains of eastern California. Perched at 10,000 feet is the Methuselah Grove. In 1957 Edward Schulman and Tom Harlan couldn’t quite believe their eyes when the tree rings they were counting extended back to 4,789 years. This tree, whose location is a closely guarded secret, was the oldest know single trunk tree until scientists discovered a 5,063 year tree in the same grove earlier this year. It germinated in 3051 BC!

Ancient Bristlecones stand watch at 10,000 feet
Ancient Bristlecones stand watch at 10,000 feet

Walking with these ancient monarchs gives me goosebumps.  You can literally see where the rocky soil has eroded away over millennia leaving roots exposed.  Where else can you see geological time set against a living organism? It also makes me feel humbled and connected to the wider-world in much the same way as standing before the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park or walking amid the towering redwood groves of Redwood National and State Parks.  I feel fortunate to have visited both in the past year.

In a time of rapid climatic and environmental change, these trees have so much to share with us about past conditions. Understanding how they have fared under past climatic regimes will help us better understand how to protect both these remarkable trees, and ourselves, as we head into uncharted territory. Unlike us, these trees are rooted to the ground and have no place to go. These trees have survived for thousands of years: with our focused efforts and help lets hope they continue to thrive.

If you have some free time this summer, what better pilgrimage is there for a tree lover? I can think of none finer.

Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
The General Sherman stands guard
The General Sherman stands guard

ArborealTriangle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
View Larger Map

Redwoods Witness Shuttle Flight for First Time in 166 Million Years

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No – it’s the space shuttle Endeavour flying low over the redwoods as it catches a ride south to Los Angeles! That was the sight that greeted me on Friday afternoon as I drove with colleagues from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. We’d left the bay and lamented the fact that we had missed seeing the shuttle on its farewell tour. And then there it was – its unmistakable silhouette low over the redwood spires of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The space shuttle Endeavour passing the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Galileo55, Flickr Creative Commons
The space shuttle Endeavour passing the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Galileo55, Flickr Creative Commons

It took me back 31 years to being a young boy in England. Our school set up a television so we could watch the launch, though as I recall, in the end it launched at the weekend – with my family taking a break from painting the living room to marvel at this modern wonder.  That had me hooked on space exploration. But now it’s no more – resigned to a museum.  And while the shuttle will continue to inspire young children with the wonders of space exploration, it’s going to be a story of the past.

The League’s work to safeguard the redwoods is ongoing and while many of the places we protect end up in another of our great public institutions – national and state parks – these arefar from being museums of the past. These are living institutions that continue to inspire countless young boys and girls as they walk among the majestic giants. With your ongoing support, we’ll ensure that our work continues and that one day we won’t lament the fact that they “used to” save the redwoods.

[first published on “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, September 25, 2012.]

Heralding Summer’s End among the Redwoods

Spot the bear!

Albee Creek campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park was full over the Labor Day weekend. Clustered around each fire ring were happy faces enjoying the end of summer and start of fall.  Each year for the past four years, I’ve camped at the same spot with family and friends: On the edge of the meadow overlooking the spires of Rockefeller Forest.

It’s nice to return to a familiar spot to see what’s changed, and what has remained the same. This year the blackberries were late and the bushes dotted with bitter red fruits rather than laden with juicy black orbs (fortunately we brought our last pot of jam from last year!). Replacing the berries was a bumper crop of apples and one very black bear who ambled through the trees gorging himself. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a full-grown bear perched at the top of a spindly apple tree reaching for one last fruit to draw and hold a crowd of campers!

Swimming beneath the redwoods at the Garden Club of America Grove

Swimming beneath the redwoods at the Garden Club of America Grove

The redwoods were unchanged and timeless as they always are. It was great to see each trailhead with a cluster of cars—more than I recall seeing before.  And yet the park’s groves are so vast that you can still find solitude and peace among the towering giants.  Deep in Rockefeller Forest the only sound was the distant splash of Bull Creek, an occasional bird call, and the gentle creaking of the trees as their tops swayed and rubbed together. It’s as if they were talking to all who came to visit for the weekend.

At Richardson Grove State Park on the drive south, I spotted a bald eagle flying low over the South Fork Eel River. It was truly a magnificent sight. It was also a trip of firsts for me: taking our new month-old son camping for the first time and sleeping out with my five-year-old son for the first time. He’s a seasoned camper but had never slept out under the stars. Wisely he didn’t believe me that the bear came and licked his nose at night. We lay on the mattress listening to the dawn chorus break over the redwoods. That’s the best way to start the day and say farewell to summer.

[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, September 5, 2012.]