After visiting the Redwoods in Spring, 1995, I didn't want to write this article. I wanted to believe that the trees are finally being protected and that mankind has stopped destroying these mighty and majestic matriarchs of the plant kingdom. I wanted to believe that slowly but surely, they are actually making a comeback and the species will survive. But the survival of the California Redwoods is still in doubt and the environmentalists need your support.
Most of the people I met when I visited Northern California seemed to appreciate the problem. I'm talking about the people at the lumber company, and the presentations they made, and all the people at the nature-conservancy headquarters, and so forth.
The environmentalists oppose all cutting of the California Redwoods--what's left of them. 96% of all California Redwoods have been destroyed by man in the last few hundred years. These trees can live to be over 2000 years old, and we have taken 96% of them in little more than 100 years! Mathematically, that is a rape of the land if ever there was one!
The California Redwoods along with their close cousins the Giant Sequoias are probably the most beautiful and majestic creatures you will ever see.
That is why the environmentalists want to see this destruction come to a complete stop. When talking specifically about trees in our National Forests, it's called Zero Cut.
If you have never been to the Redwoods, you should go, then you'll understand. These trees can stand more than 370 feet tall and over 25 feet in diameter. They have survived fires, droughts, plagues, earthquakes and everything else nature has thrown at them. But they have not been able to withstand one thing--the ravages of man.
If you go to the Redwoods, you will see that there are still a lot of the big trees. You can drive along a 30-mile corridor of Redwoods called the Avenue of the Giants, and you can think there are a lot of these trees left. This corridor was established in the early 1900's as a preserve of the giant trees. They weren't able to save many outside this corridor. In essence, it's as phony as a Hollywood set.
If you stop your car and walk barely 100 yards off this famous corridor, you won't see any more big Redwoods. They've all been chopped down and turned into patios and decks and gamerooms. Gift Shop nic-nacs and picture frames and plaques. They chopped these trees down for you.
While you're there, be sure to visit the Pacific Lumber Company, who offer a guided tour of their lumbermill. It is about 20 miles north of the Avenue of the Giants.
Just at the north end of the Avenue of the Giants the mill also maintains a small park where you can learn more about the flora and fauna of the Redwood Forests. If you're healthy (or want to be) be sure to climb the outer loop trail. It's breathtaking!
The mill itself is a loud and scary place. You wear goggles and earplugs and see enormous machines debark, slice, and dice the very same enormous trees that you just passed. It is a terrific and terrifying tour of the types of tools used in this destruction.
The mill is run by basically honest people. These people believe that they are now maintaining an equilibrium with the giant trees. They believe that they are doing no harm to nature. Unfortunately, they are wrong. When you watch a 500 year old tree being ripped to shreads by a company that has existed barely 80 years and claims they are sustaining the environment, you wonder if something is seriously out of kilter. It is. Where did a tree this big come from that it would be allowed to be cut? Sometimes the answer is: Private land.
Small plots can be "harvested" by their owners, who contract the lumber company to do the dirty work and hand them a check for about $10,000. The lumber company might make $100,000 or more from the wood. The distributors and everyone else--you're talking at least half a million dollars for that tree, by the time you and everyone else gets their deck and plaque and nic-nac.
But the guy that made the decision to sell it--he only got $10,000. For this he would cut down his children and his grandchildren's tree. "We don't have any kids, so we don't need to leave the trees" one bed-and-breakfast owner actually said to me. He continued: "Now that the highway cuts through here, we couldn't sustain the inn if we had to rely on the income from the guests. We've cut down 5 trees. They were in the way of where we wanted to put the cabins anyway. Now the place gets more light..." Yadda Yadda Yadda.
Through the effects of worldwide air and water pollution, there is clear evidence that the trees that are lucky enough not to be cut down are nevertheless not growing as well. When you slice open a Redwood tree, you often find that in the last decades of the tree's life, the rings of the tree grew thinner and less healthy. (Like all trees, Redwoods add one ring per year.) Either they weren't getting the proper sun through a polluted haze, or they were fighting off pollutants that had gotten inside them from the water and the air, or they were ravaged by pests because, where they once were in the center of a forest of Redwoods, they now stood on the edge. Thus they were susceptible to things that only Redwoods living on the edge of the Redwood forest get bothered by. They defend the rest of the forest. Sacrificial Redwoods, as it were.
Redwood forests protect themselves. Dead Redwoods provide groundsoil that is rich in nutrients and low in pests. Because so many have been cut down, there is a much higher percentage of Redwoods that are next to fields than there used to be, or that are growing without the proper dead-Redwood groundcover.
Some trees you cut down will show fatter rings in the final decades of their lives, but these trees were actually less healthy trees as well! Fatter or thinner, both changes are bad.
The reason fatter rings are bad is because when you cut away the trees around another tree, the remaining tree grows faster (producing the fatter rings) but this is actually an unnatural thing that weekens the tree overall. The density of the wood is a major factor in the ability of the Redwood to protect itself against both fire and insects, not to mention earthquakes, for thousands of years.
When the forest is thinned, the remaining trees grow unnaturally fast and both the forest and the wood in the forest is less dense. Thus the remaining trees are not as well protected. They are more vulnerable to fire, pests, wind--nearly everything is worse for them except this: Man doesn't want the fast-growing trees as much!
The wood is not considered as valuable as old-growth wood, presumably for all those benefits just mentioned, many of which remain in the cut wood after the tree has been chopped.
And of course, when you thin the forest the species suffers the loss of the removed members. Large populations are vital for biodiversity within the species.
Thanks to mankind, even the trees that are not being cut are whithering and dieing. This is all the more reason to protect not just some that remain, but all that remain. Only sufficient biodiversity will guarantee the continued life of these trees. And it is possible that only the oldest and mightiest will be able to survive the onslaught of pollution and encroachment we have brought. It is quite possible that not one tree artificially or naturally planted in the last 100 years will survive the next 500 years, when the real test comes. We are still increasing pollution worldwide despite increased awareness on the part of the public.
Can trees which should live for 2000 years survive 500 years of heavy pollution? And that's assuming we clean the environment in the next couple of centuries, a dubious assumption at best. If the 'young ones' die, perhaps some of the older trees, that right now are about 500 years old, will have the strength to survive until we collectively clean up this filthy place we call Earth. (Only a very few are much older than 500 years, because the biggest and best have nearly all been chopped down. 500 years is a young Redwood in their natural habitat.)
Redwoods need other Redwoods to survive. They are a community. Together they block the light from other types of trees, and when they do fall, they provide sanctuary for favorable plant and animal species for hundreds of years as the trunks decay. Their insect-resistant wood makes the perfect forest bed for new Redwoods. Fallen Redwoods are as vital to the health of the forest as are the ones that stand. The fallen ones maintain pest control on the forest floor where the giant trees are most vulnerable.
The lumber companies have long proposed that there is no harm in removing only a portion of the trees but it is not true. What happens is you destroy the ecosystem by taking out wood that needs to be there, dead or alive. 96% is gone already. What remains from here on in is up to you.
Go and visit the Redwoods. Drive down Avenue of the Giants and marvel at all those big trees. But recognize that they are being destroyed as you pass them, and the fight to save them can only stop when not one tree is being cut down and harvested. Even the very act of your passing them in your car may be harmful to their health, but if you won't go look at them, you probably won't help save them.
Recently it was reported that there are some 135 billionaires in America; over 40 in California alone. Maybe one of them will help. It's not just a bunch of environmental "kooks" out there trying to save these things, though you can be sure they're out there too, and right in the front committing civil disobedience and getting arrested. But so are a lot of other people. Join singers like Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley and a host of other famous people who have investigated the situation. Both the Native Forest Council and the Sierra Club now support a version of the Zero Cut concept. Help stop the harvest before 97% are gone, then 98%, then 99%, and then what?
I believe something should be done for all the workers who will be displaced, and it will cost the public a lot of money. But the lumber companies--all of them--and the workers as well, should have seen the day coming when we would finally decide to stop them. They should not have tried to sustain their own existence--they should have closed mills and reduced lumbering gradually over the past few decades so that most people would have been able to retire out of the industry. But they didn't, and now we must finally tell them they must completely stop cutting down our beautiful California Redwood trees. We want to keep the 4% that are left.
If the lumber mills had instituted an industry-wide no-hire policy three decades ago and not replaced workers lost through retirement or other causes, there would be hardly anyone left in the business now and shutting them down would be easy and cheap. They chose not to do this, of course, despite all the handwriting on the wall. They stayed as big as they could. Now we must force the public will upon them, at great cost to both the lumber companies, the workers, and the public. It's too bad, but it must be done.
If there were no other reason to do this, they are a precious and valuable tourist attraction for the State of California. One you should visit as soon as you can--while they're still around.
February, 1999: David Orr's wonderful "thank you" letter to those who worked so hard on the Headwaters issue. http://www.animatedsoftware.com/misc/stories/redwoods/do1999th.htm
...On December 5th, 1996 the federal government and state of California offered properties worth $380 million in return for the largest old-growth grove of Northern California Redwoods still in private hands, 7,500 acres of Headwaters Forest. The deal involved properties in Humboldt County, Kern County and the Southern California community of Laguna Niguel. However, as of early February, 1997 it looks like Charles Hurwitz, owner of Pacific Lumber Co. has rejected every site and declared his intention to clearcut the grove of ancient forests for his corporate gain.
This color photo is of a Giant Sequoia which are related to, but
not the same as, California Coastal Redwoods. Giant Sequioas are generally
not as tall as Coastal Redwoods, but are somewhat wider at the base.
For size comparison, the person in this photo is 5 feet tall.
Higher resolution 106K GIF of this image
Higher resolution 168K GIF of our redwood 'logo' image
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The Animated Software Company
First placed online October 1st, 1996.
Last modified July 10th, 1999.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman