Redwood (R)evolution is an educational project that seeks to build awareness of a remarkable transition in the redwood industry from destructive exploitation toward stewardship. Our goal is to inspire people to support local, sustainable forestry and to provide practical information and resources for doing so.
In less than 20 years, a majority of California’s redwood industry, including its largest players, have turned from liquidation logging toward relatively responsible forest practices on hundreds of thousands of acres of the North Coast’s redwood forests – practices that include ecological restoration as well as reduced-impact logging. While the industry still has its critics and bad actors, many are supportive of the changes that have occurred to date and think it’s critical to harness the marketplace to drive continued progress.
There are a variety of organizations that are active in the conservation, restoration and responsible management of the forests of the redwood region. These organizations encourage people to use their purchasing power to reward responsible practices and practitioners
The goal of this program is to trace the arc of the evolution of the redwood industry through a century and a half of forest exploitation and degradation toward a new paradigm of restoration and stewardship. Though this evolution has been gradual, it has revolutionary components. It’s a lot of ground to cover, so, without further ado, we’ll begin at the beginning.
For most of its history, logging in the redwood region is more accurately described as timber mining than forest management. When Euro-Americans first came flooding into California in large numbers during and after the Gold Rush, Northern California’s magnificent coastal redwood forests were virtually intact, stretching from Big Sur to the Oregon border and covering more than 2,000,000 acres. Many of the newcomers failed to strike it rich in gold and turned to harvesting the giant trees to provide lumber for booming development in San Francisco and other places on the West coast.
In the beginning, lumbermen employed axes, saws and other early methods of bringing trees down, and horses and oxen were then used to extract the timber.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, technology improved, allowing more forest to be cut and timber produced in less time. Portable engines called steam donkeys replaced oxen in removing logs from the forest and narrow-gauge locomotives transported them on to the sawmills.
Early conservationists took note of the consequences of the logging boom and began efforts to protect rapidly dwindling old growth, founding the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918. Their work resulted in the establishment of Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks, among others.
By the time Redwood National Park was created in 1968, most of the virgin forest on privately-owned lands had been logged out. Nearly 90% of the original redwood forest had been cut down. Today, after more than a century and a half of logging, only about 4% of the old growth remains, nearly all of it in parks.
But, as anyone who lives in this region knows, redwoods were not eradicated from the unprotected 96%. In some places, forests were permanently replaced by settlements, farms and ranches, but in many others second-growth forests grew back.
redwoods have an amazing capacity to sprout from the stumps and roots left behind after logging, which means they do not have to be replanted in order for forests to recover.
Even though redwood forests can recover relatively quickly and easily, and therefore lend themselves to management, with a few notable exceptions timber companies preferred to cut and run as long as enough merchantable timber remained.
In 2013, Green Diamond followed in MRC/HRC’s footsteps and got FSC certified. But unlike those companies, Green Diamond is continuing to clearcut, albeit in 15-acre parcels with retention of patches of older trees to promote biodiversity and soil stabilization. Green Diamond also is maintaining forest buffers around waterways including smaller streams, as you can see in this image, and taking measures to monitor and protect wildlife that the law does not require.
Another way that RFFI is generating income is through the production and sale of biochar. This is charcoal that is used for biological ends as opposed to heat, most commonly as a soil amendment. RFFI bought a biochar machine in 2013. Subsequently they conducted a demonstration in which they broke even, and they expect to turn a small profit as production is increased. One major benefit of biochar is that it creates a saleable product from tanoak and might underwrite the costs of tanoak thinning.