Saturday, April 26, 2014

Responding to human threats to California redwoods

Two recent New York Times stories have addressed different human threats to different varieties of California redwoods.  The first story was this one by Patricia Leigh Brown about burl thieves in northern California, and the second was this one about a new plan to protect giant sequoias in Yosemite.

Brown's story, reported earlier this month, was titled "Poachers Attack Beloved Elders of California, Its Redwoods," dateline Redwood National and State Parks, California, leads with this:
It was an unlikely crime scene: a steep trail used by bears leading to a still, ancient redwood grove. There, a rare old-growth coast redwood had been brutally hacked about 15 times by poachers, a chain saw massacre that had exposed the tree’s deep red heartwood. 
The thieves who butchered this and other 1,000-year-old arboreal giants were after the burls, gnarly protrusions on the trees that are prized for their intricately patterned wood. Although timber theft has long plagued public lands, a recent spate of burl poaching, with 18 known cases in the last year, has forced park officials to close an eight-mile drive through old-growth forests, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, at night to deter criminals.
Just 12 law enforcement rangers--one for each 11,000 acres of park--investigate the crimes, which is one reason that more night-time closures are anticipated.    

Brown also provides economic and cultural context for the crimes, featuring the tiny town of Orick, population 357 and the self-described "burlwood capital" at the southern entrance to the park.  Brown describes "a tight grain of paranoia" running through places like Orick which, not surprisingly, has seen better days.  Its school is down to just 11 students, the last mill having closed in 2009.  A 27-year-old local calls burl packing “a sad way to earn a living, but there is no industry here.”  

Brown elaborates:
The poachers, known locally as the “midnight burlers,” are motivated by a sluggish local economy and expensive methamphetamine habits, park officials say, and they have been targeting ever-bigger burls and using increasingly brazen tactics. Last year, a redwood estimated to be 400 years old was felled by thieves who wanted access to a 500-pounds.  
Paul Gallegos, the district attorney for Humboldt County, also commented on socioeconomic and cultural factors:
People still feel they have a right to extract from the forest to make a living.  But parks are a state and national resource. These trees belong to the people of the United States of America, so they are in fact stealing from them.
It's hard to say what the "raw" burls are worth, but quantifying value can mean the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge--in the rare case when a thief is caught.  Products like clocks that are made from burls sell in Orick's shops for $500 to $700 apiece.  Brown quotes one dealer in such goods as insisting "Everything here has been dead for hundreds of years."  

The second story, dateline Yosemite National Park, is "A Partnership to Help the Tallest Residents in Yosemite National Park."  Those tallest residents are a variety of redwoods called giant sequoias, and this story is less about law the Brown's story.  This story by Carol Pogash is about how a non-profit based in San Francisco, the Yosemite Conservancy, is financing the bulk of a $36 million project to eliminate a car park, a section of highway, and gift shop--all to reduce visitors through Mariposa Grove.  
For generations these towering trees — Sequoiadendron giganteum can grow to more than 250 feet — have endured man’s folly. In the 1800s, they were chopped for shingles, posts, pencils and souvenirs. Tunnels were carved through others for tourist amusement. For 100 years, Yosemite rangers doused fires, before learning that these redwoods — with fire-resistant bark — need fire to punch holes in the forest canopies, clear soil and spread seeds the size of oat flakes.  
Also harmful, Yosemite added a 115-car parking lot and a road, not recognizing that pavement interferes with the hydrology of the nearly 2,000-year-old trees.
Don Neubacher, the park's superintendent, explained:   
There is the possibility of slow death of some of the trees.  If we believe Mariposa Grove is important to save, then we’ve got to look at outside sources.
According to Pogash's story, officials have desired to return Mariposa Grove to a more natural state for more than 5 decades.  The western slopes of the Sierra are the only place where giant sequoias naturally regenerate.  

1 comment:

Taylor Call said...

The same thing is happening in Washington, where poachers are cutting down maple trees. The inner wood of the trees are used to make musical instruments such as violins and guitars and selling the wood can be very profitable. See the articles below for more info.