Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

One man's quest to save the Redwood

This man’s story must surely be an act of God


The old growth redwoods are pretty much gone from California now, thanks in part to the junk bond kings liquidation of the forests to cover their leveraged debt. Believe it or not, much of the old growth forest was used to print telephone directories. Those activities begat the “tree-sitting” episodes where an activist would climb 150-200 feet up into a tree and take up residence to halt the logging. The tree sitters, as they were known, would stay up in the tree 24/7 for months at a time. As soon as they came down, they were arrested for trespassing.

Another nasty trick used was “spiking” trees. The activists would drive large spikes into the trees slated for harvest. Then, they would notify the logging companies that the forest was spiked. I remember the newspaper articles about sawmill operators being killed or maimed when their saw blade hit the spike and shattered. The shattered equipment would not only injure the operator, it would destroy the sawmill and create costly repairs. Believe it or not, it was a big deal for the sawmill owners to provide protection for the sawmill operators. Some speculated the mill operators were hoping the carnage would lead to public opposition to tree spiking. If that was their hope, it never occurred. Later, metal detectors were added to identify spiked logs.

In those days there were “company towns” where a lumber company owned the whole town and everyone there was involved in the success of the company. It was a bitter fight between environmentalists and lumber producers; at county fairs there would be log trucks hauling large log loads noting the board feet and a sign that read something like, “This family supported by timber dollars.” There were also a lot of bumper stickers that read, “Spotted owls taste like chicken.” In the end, the activists and loggers had a lot more in common than they thought. The solution to the problems was to return to the previous sustainable harvest and improved practices to protect water quality rather than liquidating the forests. But due to mechanization, a lot of lumber jobs have gone away never to return.

Eventually, the junk bond kings’ timber interests were bought out by the federal government and logging returned to more sustainable practices. If you buy redwood at the home stores (in the U.S.) you might note a sustainable forestry label on the lumber. With the money involved, it was a really nasty fight. Redwood is still big business in California and the protests continue, but it is a lot better than it was.

Replacing the damage done by timber activities is cannabis cultivation activities. Rogue operators carve illegal miles-long unstable roads through steep mountainous areas, illegally cut down trees to allow sunlight, create massive sediment discharges to endangered salmon/steelhead spawning habitat, set booby traps in the forest to protect their crop, use all sorts of pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers, and discharge large amounts of trash and human waste - often directly into streams. It is a mess. Those issues are nowhere near sorted out. Another big mess is wine vineyards planted near streams. They just destroy water quality. But, like redwood lumber, the wine industry speaks with a megaphone.

When the Wife’s friends and family from out of state come to visit and tourist around, they ask, “What should I see?” expecting the answer to be the bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lake Tahoe, etc. I’d always tell them, “See Big Basin or Muir Woods, nothing like that where you came from.” They’d see the tourist traps, but everybody agreed those big trees are really something. There is a old Kirk Douglas movie called, “The Big Trees.” A little corny, but great shots of old growth forest, worth watching on a rainy day.

Fishing winter run steelhead in a coastal stream surrounded by a redwood forest is about as good as it gets.

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We have some California Giant Redwoods here in Scotland at the Benmore Botanical Gardens in Argyll Scotland. Planted back in 1863, even back then they were thinking of conservation and preservation. Once they are gone they are gone forever.

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