Friday, April 16, 2010

Redwoods, Natures Gift

The Del Norte Titan. Not quite as big as the Dyerville Giant, but still a nice tree!

The controversy over Richardson Grove has bothered me to the point that I really fear that people don’t take the time to think about things anymore. They seem to just have opinions. That wouldn’t bother me so bad, but they seem to base their opinions on popular thought, or mistaken ideas of what a redwood is, or how it grows. If I promise not to lecture you too much about my opinions, would you take a little bit of you time to read my experiences with redwoods.

My whole life has been associated with redwoods in one way or another. You can’t be raised on the north coast of California with out gaining a considerable knowledge about redwoods, or at least that’s what I thought. Recently, I’ve decided that may not be true. I have heard so much misinformation, disinformation and outright ignorance that I thought that I should print a few things from my life long love, and knowledge, of the redwood trees.

Redwood diseases:
I made a statement about “diseased redwoods” the other day. A person called me out, that I must not have any knowledge about redwoods at all, because they are “disease free” and that was “common knowledge”. Really? If they are truly disease free they would probably live for tens of thousands of years, but they don’t. I know, some would say that I’m stretching it to call top-rot a disease, but it eventually kills a lot of redwoods. Then there is heart-rot, that also kills a lot of redwood trees. Both are caused by fire scaring or top breakage, or top-death from drought years, but they all kill redwoods.

Root-rot is a genuine redwood disease, the bottom of the tree gets lumps around the base. The lumps are filled with rot. The giveaway that it is root-rot is the white growths under the bark. (It is caused by Heterobasidion Annosum. I didn’t know that, so I looked it up.) I also found out that there is no cure for it, and that the redwood tree should be cut, and the stump treated with Boric acid to keep it from spreading to other redwoods.

Redwoods also gets grey-mold. (Botrytis Cinerea, I also looked that up) It mostly happens in nurseries, but it can happen in the wild, and is always fatal. Healthy trees can be treated with a fungicide which will keep them healthy.

Redwoods also suffer from twig blight, Pestalotia Funerea. Twig blight can be identified by examining the tips of the needles. If they are turning brown from the tip to the base, it is twig-blight. It can also kill redwoods.

So much for “Redwoods don’t suffer from disease”.
Redwoods are remarkably fire resistant, and suffer a fire well. In fact, the redwoods will put out new, and much healthier growth after a fire. The competing underbrush, and small redwoods are killed. Any diseased trees will be burned in a fire. (this statement is where I got called out that redwoods “don’t have diseases“.) Fire is one of the few things that stops redwood diseases, and to protect them from fire is more detrimental than to let them burn. The fire spreads through the duff on the floor of the forest, and burns the accumulating vegetation matter that can cause a root fungus. Some of the surface roots also burn, which is also beneficial to the root system. It encourages new root growth. The ash from the fire feeds the roots of the trees, and they experience a growth spurt after a fire. To see a redwood forest five to ten years after a fire is a remarkable thing. Everything is fresh and new, the ferns are healthy and green again. Everything is back in balance as a forest should be.
The biggest danger to a redwood is where they grow. They thrive on river flood plains. River flood plains are mostly comprised of silt and soft soils. As the trees grow larger they become extremely heavy. The combination of the weight of the tree and the loose soils almost guarantees that they will blow down before they die of anything else. The wind works them loose and they rotate in the soft soils and topple very dramatically. My cousin and I watched during the ‘64 flood when many, many trees toppled in the Benbow state park. I have also had the unfortunate experience of evacuating Lower Redway, with the Redway Fire department, in a wind storm. We saw several large diameter trees slowly uproot, as if in slow motion, they slowly swing to the ground. It is so gentle to watch that you become mesmerized by the action. Watching a redwood topple is more thought provoking than you can ever imagine. Your mind fills with how old the tree was, and the history that past while it stood. You think of things like the birth of Christ, the pilgrims, the population of the new world, the conquistadors, the Franciscans, the Gold Rush, the civil war, the unfairness of a native population being uprooted and killed. Your mind fills with the life of the redwood, that is now over, as you watch it slowly float to the ground. When it hit’s the ground, it is the most explosive sound that you‘ve ever heard. Your feet jar from the impact. And, the trees life is over. Have you ever seen that? You will never be the same if you have.

The Dyerville Giant was knocked over by a windstorm. I used to take all of my visiting friends to see the Dyerville Giant. It was a long walk back to it from the parking lot, but it was always a treat for my friends to see it. On the way I would explain the things around us that made a redwood forest unique. I would show them how deep the duff was, how silty the soil was. I would explain the symbiotic realationship between the ferns and the sorrel and the redwoods. I would show them a limb from the top of a redwood tree, and a limb from the bottom of a redwood tree. I would ask them if they knew what kind of a tree that they were from. Few would guess that they were from the same tree, there is such an amazing difference between a low branch, and the branch just a few hundred feet up. I would show them all of the “redwood sprouts”. Which were actually broken redwood limbs that broke out of a tree during a storm. They come straight down, like an arrow, sometimes sticking many feet into the soil. Again with the Redway Fire department, we rescued a Little Ol’ Lady in a different wind storm. She called us in a panic. She wanted to leave. When we got to her house she had SEVEN limbs that fell out of a redwood. They went through her roof, ceiling, floor, and into the dirt under her house. Nobody should ever live under a redwood.

When we would get to the Dyerville Giant, I would explain that: “This is the worlds greatest tree. It is healthy all the way through, it has no heart-rot, it has no top-rot, it has no root-rot. This tree has more board feet of wood in it than ANY other tree in the world. You are looking at natures greatest miracle”. I would have a hard time getting through my spiel without choking up just a little. When we left the tree, my friends would walk away with a whole new understanding of redwoods, and maybe a little bit more understanding of me.

Now, back to the Richardson Grove. There are trees there, that have fallen in the wind, that have three layers of roots. Three layers of roots mean that there has been three events that have flooded the roots of the trees, enough to add a few feet of soil over them. The redwoods put out fresh new roots and continued to grow. Testament to the redwoods remarkable ability to survive natures tests.

The trees in the Richardson Grove, for many years were completely surrounded by pavement. At one time, in the middle of The Grove, you could just turn off of the pavement, and walk right into the lodge. There was a good 75 feet of pavement from the west side of the highway to the front of the lodge. It was that way for many years, the trees that are there now are still healthy. Let me be clear that I approve of moving the pavement from around the trees. Also let me be clear, I don’t approve of unnecessary encroachment into the redwood forest. Buildings don’t belong anywhere near a redwood tree. Redwoods are dangerous to be around in the wind and the rain! Been there done that! Also, I would way rather see a natural forest than a lodge stuck in the middle of it.

The highway is another subject. The highway is a critical part of our civilization and our community. The highway, in a modern condition, is much needed for our future on the north coast. The risk to the redwoods is practically none. I have a few reservations about some of the things that the state has planned, and I intend to address those issues. But, I want to work to get the road fixed, and ALSO not damage the redwoods.

There is much misinformation about the project in the grove. I have deep feelings about redwoods, which I also have about all of nature. Some of the people that call themselves “environmentalists” are a little misinformed, and a little bit too over the top to be thought of as environmentalists. It is sad that people view these radicals as “Protectors of the environment”. Many people have worked hard to educate themselves about the Grove project, people that I trust. People who were born and raised under these trees, and have deep feelings for them, people that have been to most of the world and speak many languages that now call this home. They should not be discounted out of hand. They know what they are talking about, and like me, are for the project with a few reservations, that can be addressed.

Most of the people that are against the project spend a lot of time referring to the “roots of thousand year old redwood trees”, and how cutting the roots should not be risked. I wonder how many of them know that those same roots can be many thousands of years older than the trees that they feed. Many trees in a redwood forest are clones of each other, sprouted from the same root stock, many, many times. The roots in a redwood forest are often feeding many trees, not just one. The roots of a redwood can span many trees, and go hundreds of feet around a single tree. That is how they suffer root damage so well. Not only are they quick to grow new roots, they can feed from their surrounding trees. Redwoods are as resilient as a weed. One of the few things that will hurt a redwood is overcrowding, and over competition from other species of trees.

If you’ve learned anything, you are welcome. If you know anything that would help me know more about redwoods, I will eagerly listen.

Thanks for reading!


kymk said...

Well said, Ernie. And thanks to Hank and Cristina for putting out piece that had so much research going into it.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that redwoods, as big as they are, do not have tap roots to act as anchors for stability. The lack of a taproot indicates the abundance of moisture near the surface, making the need for a taproot to search for a water table unnecessary. Thus, as a survival mechanism, their ability to survive windstorms is due to their propensity to grow in clusters - known as "groves" - to enable their surface roots, which grow laterally, to weave themselves together to maintain their uprightness. Consequently, whenever a redwood topples, it weakens the interlocking strength of the nearby trees to create a domino effect.

Anonymous said...

Ernie, question about building around redwoods-

How close can a proposed building foundation typically be to an existing mature redwood tree without harming the tree and it's root system? Let's assume a 4 ft deep perimeter foundation, and the necessary over excavation as required.


Mitch Trachtenberg said...

Thanks for the lesson. I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge.

I think you may find, though, that the redwoods are like the snail darters. When people talk about not cutting redwood roots, they may be concerned about something more than the survival of one particular tree.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I have to admit that a snail darter is the smallest red herring that I’ve ever had dragged across the trail before me.

Mitch, you and I agree on many things. I would imagine that you think Maxxam corporation and Charles Hurwitz were the worst thing to ever happen to Humboldt county and logging. Me too. You seem to like metaphors, so I’ll use one. “it was like been tied to a tree, while watching my sister being raped.” They cut two to three times the sustained yield, they clear cut, and did many other things that were just plain not fair, and went against every principle that I hold dear. Clear cuts are not good for the critters, or anything else BUT logging profits. The Murphy’s would still be logging redwoods, and not hurting the forest, had it not been for Hurwitz’s corporate take-over. He literally cut-and-ran, and left us bleeding.

The sad thing about the Hurwitz take-over is that it gave birth to and unreasonable, and often wrong, environmental movement. It was easy to sit back and not say anything about the movement, even when they were wrong, because we were all on the same side. We were all against over-cutting, and poor logging practices. We stood by when we should have spoken up. We also should have all screamed about Hurwitz… We should have screamed bloody murder.

Now, we still have that unreasonable, and often wrong environmental movement, that is like a mad dog looking for another kill, and wondering why we are so mad at him when he was encouraged to do the same thing before. The Grove Realignment does not relate to Maxxam, anymore than it relates to the snail darter.

The redwoods are in NO way endangered. They have simply been over-cut, and in many ways much healthier than before. You like metaphores. “It was like sacrificing the elderly to make room for the young”. I don’t like the thought of sacrificing any person or anything. The grove is not a sacrifice, It’s a much needed realignment. I can tell you that there are many things that I’m more concerned with than the redwood trees, but there we go again changing the subject.

suzy blah blah said...

You seem to like metaphors, so I’ll use one. “it was like been tied to a tree, while watching my sister being raped.”

Ernie, that's not a metaphor, that's a simile. And the phrases, “It was like sacrificing the elderly to make room for the young”, and "like a mad dog looking for another kill" are also similes. Similes are usually emotionally rooted and often crudely sentimental, whereas metaphors are, for the most part, logically rooted. You can see this by the metaphor, "If you cut that simile's roots it will fall". eg if a sociopath were to be tied to a tree while his sister was raped, the sociopath, due to his having no emotions, may not be bothered at all.

Of course, this is just an example to show the emotional roots, your readers are not likely to be sociopaths. So what i'm saying is that they are good similes, (or bad depending on the reader's literary experience and taste), but if you'd have said, "My hands were tied by Hurwitz's attorneys as i helplessly watched the redwoods being raped by Maxxam", or, "EPIC is a group of mad dogs looking for another kill", or, "Maxxam sacrificially killed our grandmothers to make room for the next generation of kids", then you would have been using metaphors.

Ernie Branscomb said...

You know, all of the stuff zipped through the back my mind when I wrote that, but I thought that Shakespeare was the only one allowed to use similes, and I’m certainly not in Shakespeare’s class. As you know, all things that I decide are firmly based in pure, unemotional logic. Using logic so tangible that it can be hit with a hammer. I have been accused of being a sociopath, because I don’t believe trees have feelings, so, and therefore, I was using metaphors. Plus, I knew how to spell metaphor and I didn’t know how to spell simile until you showed me.

I used my sister and Grandparents as examples because, well, they are only my sister and grandparents.

All kidding aside… thank-you. I could use some English lessons. Did you know that in Shakespeare’s day there were NO rules for the English language, and they were only developed later, after somebody decided that there had to be rules.

Anonymous said...

Rules? We don't need no stinking rules!

suzy blah blah said...

-oh i'm all for breaking the rools, but the simile thing isn't a rule, it's a definition. So now turning to more uplifting subjects, here's a little history to go with the English lesson: Did you know that after the Beatles #1 hit 'Twist and SHOUT' topped the charts for 3months in the summer of 79 it was concluded by those who adjust cultural values that screaming was now to be allowed in pop music, and i guess that means that screaming is allowed on the town square too. But Ernie, you and Suzy know that screaming has always been aloud --unless of course somebody hits their thumb with a hammer in the forest and there's nobody there to hear it,

spyrock said...

they had huell howser on california gold looking for old growth redwood in humbolt county. he said that only 4 percent is left and that the patches are miles apart. i don't see redwoods as people but the old growth groves do seem to be a portal or doorway to another time, dimension, or parallel world. your choice. its sort of like meditating without even trying. or being in a vortex. i have really enjoyed my experience with those old trees. and i would hope my grandchildren can share that experience. but someone has to stop all the greedy fools who go too far. someone has to refuse to clear cut. or pay the consequences later on. that seems to be what's happening to y'all. i quit the peach ranch for having to green drop 10 percent on the ground because the price was too low. every 10th tree knocked on the ground. just wasted food. sounds like the same thing. same ole pave paridise, put up a parking lot.

gabby haze said...

i appreciate all the verisimilitude y'all are bringing to the blog.
what with red-flagged semaphores and musical metaphors old fella can get (even more)confused.
as i understand it, today (4/20) is "twist and shout" day, suz is probably playing roll model for the youth somewhere... but i do like the thought of joni mitchell leading us in that hippie hymn about parking lots and paved paradises.

what we got here is a symbolic war with similes and metaphors and emotions of mass destruction being tossed back and forth. the din is such that it is hard to hear the forest, which is always FOR the trees.

i clipped a little newspaper clipping some years back about a professor who studied trees up in oregon and found that they communicated in some slow waves he called O-waves. much like we don't grok whale-song...i suspect we aren't 'hearing' the trees.
unless you are quiet and meditating in their cathedral prescence, as spy so poetically expressed.
so, a clash of symbols is also occuring. there has been so much forest rape, indigenous people slaughter, and butt stupid economically driven behavior that the Psyche of the coast is saying no more! sometimes it sounds a little like that southpark show, where one person yells "they're stealing our jobs", and everyone starts hysterically yelling "they're stealing our jobs"...only in this case it is "they are killing our trees".
in my little opinion, this war should have occurred back during the 4-lanefication of 101 back in the 60's-70's, when actual big trees were destroyed for the progress 4 lanes could bring (except to a dozen or so businesses and campgrounds that were put out of business).

are the lives of those trees endangered by clipping some of grandma and grandpa's toe-roots? i don't know.

when i drive along the ave of the giants, particularly the north end where the road is narrower, i see tree roots that had to have been chopped away decades ago,returned and pushing the pavement up. i can't drive and look up to see whether these trees are dying from their tops down. i wish there was a ranger from up there who could comment on the health of those trees over the decades. a little actual experience and observation would go a long way.

butt what do I gnow? i wish Suz had a crystal ball.

Anonymous said...

I know this is well past the post date, but I just wanted to say one thing: My problem with the Grove project has more to do with setting a precedent in the parks than anything else. Parks exist to protect and preserve a valuable resource. I recognize that redwoods themselves are not an endangered species, but the old groves are truly special. Allowing someone to come in to a park and and remove trees sets a dangerous precedent that I don't believe we can afford. The issue really is a fine line. Newton Drury once threatened to shut all the national parks (and the redwood parks, too, I think) down in the face of calls to mine and cut the natural resources there during the war effort in the 40's. He caught a lot of flak for it, but the resources in the parks remained safe.
--Redwood Violet