Save the Redwoods League releases stunning book on 100th anniversary
They are among the most awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world. As Mother Nature's skyscrapers, redwoods are among the tallest living things on the planet — the most gargantuan approaching 400 feet. And although not the oldest — the bristlecone pine has a longer lifespan by a good measure — the most senior denizens of the redwood forests were alive during the lifetime of Julius Caesar.
Today, less than five percent of the original 2.2 million acres of coast redwood forests that once covered the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast for more than 200 million years, still survive.
It took a scant 150 years for loggers and then major timber companies to fell California's primeval forests. But one organization, the Save the Redwoods League, can be credited with helping to preserve what was left of these titans that had flourished since the days of the dinosaurs.
The conservation organization, which claims credit for helping to preserve 212,000 acres of coast redwoods and their cousins, the giant sequoias that inhabit the western slope of the Sierra, is celebrating its centennial, and marking the event with publication of a new book, 'The Once and Future Forest: California's Iconic Redwoods.' A fitting giant of a book measuring 15 inches long and weighing 4 1/2 pounds, it rises to the majesty of its subject with breathtaking photography — including a four-page panoramic pullout shot by Max Forster — and essays by five major writers who collectively explore the mythology, botany and science of these amazing trees. The book also traces the history of redwoods, from their antediluvian roots to their relationship with native civilizations, to their exploitation by loggers and timber companies and ultimately to the century-long campaign to save what is left. The commemorative book that comes in a heavy sleeve is published by Heyday and retails for $100 at savetherewoods.org.
'This 100th anniversary is as much an opportunity to look backward at our legacy as a chance to rally together for a future and focus on a vision for our second century,' said Sam Hodder, the president and CEO of the San Francisco-based League.
Writer and Sonoma State Professor Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, contributed an essay, 'The Ancient Ones,' exploring among other things, the relationship of indigenous people to the redwoods, told through stories.
'It's a gorgeous representation of a gorgeous and important tree. Perhaps it will give readers and viewers of the pictures a greater sense of urgency to love and protect these trees,' he said.
The 20th century challenge was logging, a threat that diminished in 1999 when the state and federal governments pulled together $460 million to purchase The Headwaters Forest. The 7,472 acres at the headwaters of Salmon Creek and the South Fork Elk River near Fortuna, were targeted for a frenzied level of cutting by financier and Pacific Lumber owner Charles Hurwitz. It contained the last unprotected and intact old growth redwood forest ecosystem , comprising 3,088 acres.
But California's state tree is not out of the woods. More than a million acres of redwood forests remain unprotected, managed for timber. And even the protected forests' health is threatened by the degraded land surrounding them, Hodder said. Some forests have been logged multiple times. Among the league's current initiatives is to help existing forests regenerate, a difficult task considering the complexity of the old growth ecosystems that developed over millennia.
Climate change is potentially an even more formidable foe than loggers.
'This type of research is absolutely in its infant state but it's so critical,' said Meg Lowman, a senior scientist with the California Academy of Sciences who contributed an essay to the book. 'Everyone is asking the questions, 'How will the redwoods survive when fog becomes more intermittent or when rainfall patterns change or when drought is more commonplace?'
Known as 'Canopy Meg' for her pioneering work in the study of the mysterious frontier of forest canopies — more people have been to the top of Mt. Everest than to the tops of the world's tallest trees — Lowman marvels at the buzz of activity and life in the upper reaches of redwoods.
'It's another world. It's extraordinary,' she said. 'The forest floor is very dark and quiet. The real activity is at the top where the flora and fauna and leafing is all going on because that is where the sunlight is...Nothing is quiet. You have millions of species up there. It's a cacophony.'
Lowman cited the observations of Professor E.O. Wilson at Harvard University, who refers to the treetops as 'the eighth continent,' and noted it is home to a staggering biodiversity of species, including more than 8,000 species of arthropods, which includes insects, spiders and crustaceans. In 2007 botanist Steve Sillett, who has been working with The League's 'Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative,' found 282 species of plants growing on redwoods — also known as epiphytes — in just nine redwood canopies, more than any other temperate forest on the continent.