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Redwood Forest Foundation

As printed in the
RFFI Fall 2009 Newsletter

Redwood Transect

by Michael Fay
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and
Wildlife Conservation Society conservationist

No human who has ever seen the giant redwoods, not the least those who cut them, has not stood in awe of their greatness. This is one of the reasons I decided to walk the entire length of their range from the southernmost redwood tree known to exist today to the northernmost tree, a distance of some 700 miles and taking over a year.

Lindsey Holm and Mike Fay, photo by Robert Ballard
Lindsey Holm and Mike Fay
Photo by Robert Ballard

Along the way, independent researcher Lindsey Holm and I collected data critical to understanding the ecology, history and current state of the redwood forest. We hoped that our transect would connect a community of people from all walks of life: practioners, landowners, scientists and advocates to contribute information about the current status of the redwood forest. My ultimate goal was always to challenge redwood communities and all involved in their future and management to develop sustainable ways to use and appreciate America's redwoods.

My transect, which will be featured in the upcoming October issue of National Geographic Magazine, and in the documentary, "EXPLORER: Climbing Redwood Giants," is not the first involvement of the Society with this extraordinary landscape.

Tune In
"Climbing Redwood Giants"

National Geographic EXPLORER
Tuesday, September 29 at 10PM
Climbing Redwood Giants, on National Geographic EXPLORER

The Society's first article on Redwoods appeared in 1899. At that time the author Henry Gannett, a USGS scientist, focused on examining the inventory, which he estimated to be at 75 billion board feet and at the rate of use, believed that much of it would be gone in 50 years.

A second trip to the region in 1917 became pivotal in igniting interest in saving this unique forest. The Society's resulting article "Saving the Redwoods," was published in June 1920 and made an impassioned plea to the public to ask government representatives to set these lands aside as a national park. This article, coupled with the tireless efforts of the newly incorporated Save-the-Redwoods League, is largely responsible for the founding of many state parks and reserves in California. In 1964 National Geographic focused on the Redwood Region again, this time looking closely at Redwood Creek, the finding of the tallest tree on earth and on the creation of Redwood National Park.

But this is a different era. Almost 40 years have passed: 40 years of intense timbering, settlement and road building. 95 percent of the original forest has been cut. Our transect documents, first-hand, the enormous damage of past uses, decline in forest productivity and ecosystem function. These losses are directly felt by landowners, local residents and the State of California and are seen in fisheries declines, stream sedimentation and regional economic difficulties today. But we also see many reasons for hope.

Mike Fay, Photo by Michael Christopher Brown/National Geographic
Mike Fay, Photo by Michael Christopher Brown/National Geographic

Through innovations in practices and regulation, both of which California are known for, a new reality of forest management is developing. Private landowners along with regulators and local people are working together in a process of restoration and a new, innovative kind of management. This process is not just about restoring and protecting ecosystems and ecosystem values but bringing full productivity back to these forests. It is a process that integrates quality wood production with local people, regulation, restoration and brings long-term monetization of ecosystem assets into the equation.

Our hope is that by focusing on the redwood and using this global symbol that represents everything that is powerful, grand and resilient in nature, by employing the power of thousands of people using our virtual crystal ball, and with leadership of a bold few, people will move to act and change the course of history globally and locally.


Return to
Fall 2009 Newsletter
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