Copyright: Good Nature Publishing Co.
I’m reading The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, a book by Richard Preston about the last remaining coastal redwood trees of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Old-growth forest means really old. Redwood trees live for thousands of years. In 1850, there were about two million acres of old growth forests between Big Sur and the southern tip of Oregon. Only about 4% of them remain.
It is difficult to imagine just how big an ancient redwood tree is. The tallest one is believed to be 370 feet tall. National Geographic called it “the Mt. Everest of All Living Things.” The Wild Trees is about an eccentric group of botanists, biologists and climbers studying a grove of redwoods, the largest of which is named Iluvatar.
Redwood trees are not just a simple configuration of one central trunk that is very very tall with horizontal branches sticking out. Many of the horizontal branches thrust out smaller “trees” that grow vertically, parallel to the trunk, and look just like the main tree. Horizontal branches on these small versions thrust out even smaller versions. Iluvatar had 220 trunks of smaller and smaller trees in six levels of heirarchy. It had become “a forest inside a forest . . . and one of the most structurally complicated living organisms that has ever been discovered.” It is, as Preston describes it, “an architecture made up of nooks and crannies and shaded, moist spots and fertile pockets where all kinds of living things can become established and can interact with one another.”
This is the home of the marbled murrelet, an elusive little member of the auk family, similar to the penguin in many respects, who spends most of its life in the ocean but who flies (so far, so fast that researchers use a radar gun to track them) up to 70 km inland to nest 140′ in the air in the lichen-lined “nooks and crannies” of old growth trees like Iluvatar, carrying very small fish in their tiny curved beaks to feed their young. These little birds, who mate for life, have become a very endangered species. I have been following the saga of those who struggle to pull them back from the brink of extinction for three years now and finally there has been an historic breakthrough.
The California Supreme Court has given new protection to the marbled murrelet and the magnificent old growth forests by throwing out an open-ended long-term logging plan for 200,000 acres in Humboldt County that the California Department of Forestry had approved – delegating the completion of the plan to protect endangered species to the logging company! Justice Carlos R. Moreno ruled that the Department of Forestry “failed to proceed according to law.” This decision grew out of lawsuits that followed the historic Headwaters Agreement, a 1996 pact between Pacific Lumber Co. and the state and federal governments.
In early August, the new management of Humboldt Redwood Co. (HRC) which was previously Pacific Lumber Co., met with activists and assured them that old growth groves on HRC land will be permanently protected. This is a wonderful victory for the dedicated activists who have put their lives on the line for the forest. This video from North Coast Earth First! shows what was involved in protecting these trees, this habitat and the marbled murrelet.
Local activists are going to keep on organizing, holding non-violence trainings and action camps, and North Coast Earth First! Media will continue to exist, releasing more videos and continuing to keep the public awareness of local issues as high as possible. There are other local lumber companies who are still clearcutting, and there may even be some hidden old growth out there, so organizing and actions will continue, until they are no longer needed. And that will be a wonderful day, indeed.
The poster of the beautiful watercolor of the two marbled murrelets by artist Ram Papish is available from http://goodnaturepublishing.com along with many other visual delights of the natural world.