Santa Cruz Indymedia :
Santa Cruz Indymedia

LOCAL News :: [none]

Threat to Redwoods Muffles Logging Debate

The discovery was perhaps most disheartening in places like the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the redwoods have endured a hard modern history and are the source of tensions between timber companies and environmental groups.
Threat to Redwoods Muffles Logging Debate


September 8, 2002

CORRALITOS, Calif., Sept. 6 - Most of the ancient redwood forests here in the Santa Cruz Mountains were sheared to the ground by loggers more than a century ago. Rotting stumps, some bigger than a banquet table, are like grave markers for the trees on the steep forest floor.
The coastal woods are lush again and the timber operations are back, on a smaller scale and under strict regulation.
But a new worry about the redwoods has arisen. It is over a funguslike micro-organism called Phytophthora ramorum, which has killed thousands of live oak and tan oak trees in forests from here to Oregon.
The organism, which causes a highly contagious disease named sudden oak death, had been suspected of also infecting redwoods and Douglas firs. This week, scientists confirmed that suspicion. They released evidence of the disease found in Douglas fir saplings in Sonoma County and in redwood saplings and sprouts at several locations, including a state park north of here.
The discovery was perhaps most disheartening in places like the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the redwoods have endured a hard modern history and are the source of tensions between timber companies and environmental groups. The world of redwoods is often divided along the battle lines over logging, yet the familiar antagonisms were barely expressed this week as everyone agonized over the trees.
“All of the forests of California are quite magnificent, but coastal redwoods and giant sequoias are really something to behold,” said Jay Watson, regional director for the Wilderness Society. “They have come to symbolize the majesty of California’s forests, and to think they are facing a new peril is of great concern.”
Eric K. Huff has spent most of the last decade in these mountains as a forester for Big Creek Lumber Company. He carries an oversized can of spray paint in the back of his pickup truck to mark the trees to be felled. He also carries a sense of mission. His job is to manage the tree harvests so enough redwoods are left to keep the forests regenerating for future cuts.
The idea of a mysterious pathogen lurking in the trees has put him on alert.
“Being a forester, you get to know a property and observe changes over time,” Mr. Huff said. “It is all about observation. Now, with this revelation, it is all about opening our eyes to a whole new level.”
Mr. Huff, the company’s chief forester, spent today with one of his assistants, Steve R. Auten, surveying several forests. They are in the infestation zone for sudden oak death disease, which in seven years has been found in 12 counties in California and in a small corner of Oregon.
The dead tan oaks have created large brown patches in the forest canopy across the Santa Cruz area, a frightening example of the disease’s destructive power.
So far, however, no scientific evidence has indicated that Phytophthora ramorum harmed mature redwoods or Douglas firs, and Mr. Huff and Mr. Auten found no new signs of the disease in the new growth.
“Everything looks great, the way it should,” said Mr. Auten, flipping through a thicket of sprouts bursting from a redwood stump. “The redwoods are known as resilient trees. They are known for not being affected by diseases.”
In announcing their findings, the scientists, Dr. David Rizzo of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Matteo Garbelotto of the University of California at Berkeley, acknowledged that much is unknown about sudden oak death disease, leaving many people guessing about the significance of its spread.
“It is our impression that at this point there is no reason to believe that the redwood trees of the ancient redwood forests are at risk,” said Kate Anderton, executive director of the Save the Redwoods League, which buys and preserves redwood forests. “The presence of Phytophthora ramorum in the redwoods has been in the sprouts only.”
But Louis Blumberg, a deputy director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, suggested that knowing a disease attacked young trees and sprouts was small comfort.
“The implications for the long term are not very good with that,” Mr. Blumberg said.
Mr. Huff, the forester, is among those who predict that the redwoods, which live as long as 2,000 years, will find a way to beat the pathogen. He admits his belief is based more on hope than knowledge, but as he looked up at a healthy redwood towering over a wilting tan oak, he speculated that the disease might be part of nature’s design.
“That is what the local foresters are talking about, that maybe somehow the redwoods have an advantage, that they have carried these spores for years and years and somehow use them to kill off their competitors,” he said.
Even if that were true, Mr. Huff and Mr. Auten said, they had no intention of being part of nature’s deadly plan. After walking through woods sprinkled with sick tan oaks, they pulled their pickup trucks to the side of the road and reached for their latest forestry tool: a can of Lysol disinfectant spray.
They removed their heavy boots, soaked them in the spray and tossed them into the trucks. The idea was to kill any Phytophthora ramorum spores they might have kicked up. Whether their method works, no one can say. So far, at least, no sick redwoods are in their forests. No cure for sudden oak death is known.

New Comments are disabled, please visit


No events for this day.

view calendar week
add an event


Media Centers

Syndication feeds

Account Login

This site made manifest by dadaIMC software