“To Save the Redwoods, Scientists Debate Burning and Logging”

The subtitle of this Undark article: “Some scientists question whether controlled burns and logging are really the best way to preserve California’s redwoods.”

Looks at both coast redwood and giant sequoia, the effects of fire and the lack of it, and the role of active management (thinning).

FWIW, I came across Undark recently — excellent ‘zine. “Undark is a non-profit, editorially independent digital magazine exploring the intersection of science and society.”


16 thoughts on ““To Save the Redwoods, Scientists Debate Burning and Logging””

  1. The Save the Redwoods League is intending to purchase the Alder Creek tract of Giant Sequoias. They will then ‘manage’ that land for about 10 years before selling it to the Feds, for inclusion into the Giant Sequoia National Monument. They really don’t want to talk much about the money end of things. However, some of their “active management” ideas might not be allowed under current Federal rules, laws and policies.

      • I think they intend to thin the understory (probably by hand) and whack out the brush. I’ll bet they also intend to design and build tourist facilities (parking lots, trails, toilets, souvenir shops etc). It’s profitable to be the ‘middle man’.

            • Ok, but you at first stated “I think they intend to thin the understory (probably by hand) and whack out the brush.”

              I don’t believe hand-thinning of the understory and brush produces “logs” to sell and I also don’t believe hand-thinning of the understory and brush is prohibited under “current Federal rules, laws and policies.”

              • Parking lots (outside of the groves) often require cutting merchantable trees. The idea of felling the trees and leaving them in place isn’t what they want to do. They do seem to be very secretive about their plans, and even their potential donors want to know what their donations will actually buy.

                • While Port-Orford-cedar root disease (another Phytophthora) is found in soil and water and the inoculum in the soil appears to be “killed” by fire in some cases, SOD is airborne, as well as found in soil and water. So while fire might “kill” SOD in the soil, it won’t have too much effect on the disease in the air or in the water unless there is widespread mortality of SOD-affected vegetation.
                  Where it is a tree, tanoak tends to dominate and remain dominant in areas that have low-intensity fire. But conifers tend to dominate where there is moderate-to-high intensity fire.

  2. There wasn’t much discussion of prescribed fire in the piece except in the lead in. Can they really address SOD effectively without it?

    • Tan oak is one of those species that sprout extremely well after a fire and will often become the dominate species in the forest post fire. Is pythophothora killed by fire?
      I am curious who owns the adler creek patch now?

  3. The article seems to highlight the uncertainty of each side of the issue regarding how to “manage” the redwood forests, quoting scientific journal articles on both sides to bolster arguments. While I don’t side with either approach, I did find that the last paragraph espouses the best course of action, at least for the very near future, in the following quote by Kristen Shive, director of science for Save the Redwoods League:
    “…I think the best we can do is take all the best available science and spend some time in the woods, to better understand the forest, and then make the best decisions that we can,” with the operative section being to spend time in the woods.

    I am, by no means, an expert but I have been told on more than one occasion that many forest scientists lament the fact that, while they entered the field because of their love for being in the woods, they no longer have time to simply “be” in the woods, learning, exploring and/or making personal observations about the ecosystems in which they find themselves.

    Thanks for posting the article, Steve. It was interesting, both from the standpoint of whether or not the redwoods would benefit from active forest management and as an example of how far we really have to go before we fully understand forest dynamics.

    • The League says, “In addition to acquiring the property, the League will develop plans for restoration and stewardship activities during its ownership. ‘In the near- to midterm, the restoration and stewardship goal will be to bring back a balance of native forest species that have been altered by historical logging, and reduce fuel loads to assure fire resilience and long-term protection,’ Hodder said. ‘Other than these relatively minor interventions, the forest is in really great shape. Our focus will be on protecting the magnificent forest that already exists at Alder Creek and exploring opportunities for public access.’”

      See their “The Threats to the Redwoods” page….


      • Remember, this is about the total of 530 acres. Here is the aerial view of the spot.


        It sure seemed like this plan was similar to TNC’s operations, designed to make money for the organization. Finally, after engaging with them on Facebook, I think I had to accept that they would do what is right for the grove, before selling it, at a profit, to the Forest Service (to be included into the Giant Sequoia National Monument). 15 million is a lot to pay for such an undeveloped acreage. How much will STR get from the Forest Service? Wasn’t there a similar ‘middle-man’ situation with Plum Creek Lumber lands?

  4. I guess I’m left confused about whether they are talking about restoring second growth forests or protecting existing old growth since they mention both, and which situations call for thinning or burning. Especially with the conclusion that the “natural” result is not the “right direction:”

    “But, she says, the forest that grows there naturally may not feature sequoias, and it may no longer meet the habitat needs of the species that are native to the original forest system … That’s why people need to step in and guide the recovery in the right direction, she says.”

    I guess my philosophy would be to keep messing with the places that have been messed with, but don’t mess with those that haven’t. (And it’s a science question about whether fire exclusion qualifies as “messed with” for redwoods.)

    • I see this situation with STR being an economic opportunist middleman. I didn’t research their credentials and intentions but, I’m just assuming that they know what that unique 530 acres needs, before selling it to the Forest Service (for inclusion into the Giant Sequoia National Monument). This might include parking lots, trails, bathrooms and other amenities. STR can accomplish projects quicker than the Forest Service, avoiding NEPA, controversy and the courts. STR is buying the land with donations via social media. There was some concern from potential donors. They also didn’t want to donate their personal information to STR, too.


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