Our iconic redwood forests are under threat, but probably not in the way you think.
For almost a century, starting in the late 1800s, the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains were devastated by clearcut logging (cutting every tree in a stand), an approach that showed no concern for the environment. Early loggers moved quickly, wreaking havoc on an ecosystem that had thrived for millennia prior to arrival of the Europeans.
Over time, however, the negative environmental impacts of these practices became apparent. Streams turned brown with sediment. Species that depend on old growth redwoods, like marbled murrelet, became critically endangered.
It became clear something had to change.
Thanks, in part, to the relentless work of our predecessors in the conservation community, some visionary politicians, and progressive timber companies (like Big Creek Lumber), the laws changed and the destructive logging practices of the last century are no longer a threat here the way they once were.
That doesn’t mean our work protecting the forests of our region is finished.
Yes, the logging practices of years past are banned and our forests are better protected. But there are still threats to our local forest. In fact, many of the threats we face today are more complex and challenging than anything we’ve faced in the past.
One of the biggest threats to our forest is habitat fragmentation, with low density development being the main concern. This type of development neither solves our housing problems nor the need for uninterrupted wildlife habitat. That is why we are doing what we can to remove the threat of fragmentation and development, and ensure our forests stay intact, much as we did through our recent project with Big Creek Lumber.
Our recent collaboration with Big Creek Lumber enabled us to protect almost 1,000 acres of redwoods forest (some of which are pictured here) and establish the first-ever working forest conservation easement in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Learn more here.
The impacts of climate change are also intensifying at alarming speed. Wildfire, drought, infestations and other stresses to the forest are all more likely in the years to come. And, quite frankly, many of the forest stands in the Santa Cruz Mountains have not had enough time to recover from decades of abusive logging. Ecologically out of balance, they’re just not ready for the additional stress.
In many places there are too many trees, creating a serious fire threat. In other areas, we’re losing redwoods as they are crowded out by faster growing species like tanoak and Douglas fir. Where endless expanses of old growth forests once stood, we now have thickets of dense brush and tanoak. Even where the redwoods have a foothold, the trees that remain are too dense. Where there once stood one giant, there are now ten, twenty or even more small trees, each stressed from fighting against neighboring trees for resources. These stressed trees are more susceptible to drought and infestation.
If given a few hundred years, the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains might recover on their own. But we no longer have the luxury of time. If these forests are going to survive the impending threats of a rapidly changing climate, we need to aid their recovery.
One way to accelerate a forest’s recovery is by selectively thinning its unhealthy trees, a method we’ve implemented at our San Vicente Redwoods property. Think of it like growing carrots in your garden: at some point you have to pull out the smaller sprouts to let the larger ones grow. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but by cutting some of the trees, we are actually making the forest healthier.
Yes, the solution is cutting trees.
Talk about a statement that was formerly an anathema in the conservation community. But views and science are changing. We now acknowledge that almost all of our region’s forests have been impacted by human management. Most areas were clear cut and we’ve removed the natural fire patterns through proactive fire suppression.
This isn’t to say that logging in the Santa Cruz Mountains, even if done carefully, no longer has a negative impact on the land. There still are risks related to the spread of invasive species, soil compaction and releasing sediment into streams. But considering that today’s primary threats to our forests are catastrophic fire, development and climate change, the benefits of carefully logging in the Santa Cruz Mountains far outweigh the risks.
We have to act now. We don’t have time to wait.
Learn more about our recent project with Big Creek Lumber, in which we protected almost 1,000 acres of redwood forest and established the first-ever working forest conservation easement in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more