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I’m standing in the redwood forest at San Vicente.
From the stump I’m standing on I can see a good patch of forest. I’m on the lookout for signs of distress – signs that the forest isn’t responding well to our management. But I see nothing that causes concern. This area of the forest was selectively logged 2 years ago and it’s already coming back to life.
As I look at the rings on the stump, I think about what this tree has experienced and how this land has changed over time. It’s helpful to look back from time to time – to know where we’re going, it’s important to know where we’ve been.
Join me for a trip through time here at San Vicente Redwoods:
(Click and scroll through the pictures below)
For thousands of years, Native Californians managed the forests in a sustainable way, through controlled burns for the harvesting of acorns and timber. The ecological processes functioned and generations of redwoods sprouted, grew, thrived, then died, only to be replaced by other redwoods.
But in the past century, humans have altered the status quo.
Things really got started in 1908 with the formation of the San Vicente Lumber Company, a consortium on lumber men from Utah and eastern Oregon. They purchased over 16,000 acres of forest from the San Vicente Rancho and got to work turning the forest into dollars.
This isn’t to say it was always malicious. People have always done what they think is right at the moment. But we learn, slowly, how to be better stewards of our land.
After battling local officials, the San Vicente Lumber Company received the permission needed to build the largest sawmill in Santa Cruz County. Over the next 14 years, nine miles of broad gauge railroad would be laid into the forests to bring trees to the mill at Moore’s Creek. Every commercially viable tree was harvested. It is estimated that the company cut over 400 million board feet before it closed its doors in 1923.
The forest had fallen out of balance and, in 1948, the infamous Pine Mountain Fire ripped through the property killing or damaging many of the young trees. The effects of poor forest management had finally become clear.
When the Pacific Cement and Aggregate Co. took control of the property in 1957, they saw the forest not for its income potential, but as a liability. Local foresters where hired to mitigate property liability and to help bring the forest back to a state of economic productivity.
They got to work thinning the forest to encourage the growth of individual trees. The end game in these days was to maximize the volume per acre for future harvests. Somewhat inadvertently, they also helped bring the forest back into a state of balance.
This approach to managing the forest, by only harvesting some but not all of the trees, continued as the property changed hands a few more times over the coming decades.
We protected the property with a perpetual conservation easement, which designates some areas as working forest, some as restoration reserves and some as preserve areas where no management is allowed.
The four conservation partners are collaborating in a unique way to bring the forest back to full strength. Active management for timber, as well as restoration treatments, allow us to enhance wildlife habitat, decrease fire threat, sequester more carbon and create old growth conditions sooner.
When I stand among the redwood forest on San Vicente Redwoods, I am hopeful. I can begin to see the forest recovering. I know we can get these forests back on track, to create a resilient forest that provides us with wood, while also giving habitat to the wildlife, water to the streams and clean air to all of us.
As I jump down from the perch I had been sitting on, I think myself, “We’ve got this.”
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.