Here’s Why California’s Soaring Redwoods Face an Uncertain Future

It goes without saying that the Coastal Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are among California's greatest natural treasures and ionic symbols of the Golden State. Millions of people travel from across the globe into California’s redwoods just to experience these massive giants that live over 2,500 years and grow 379 feet (that’s longer than a football field). These trees form the backbone of the coastal woodlands from Big Sur to southern Oregon, inviting incredible diversity of life to thrive: from mountain lions to banana slugs to steelhead trout. Despite the value of a healthy redwood forests, only 22 percent of the coastal redwood ecosystem is highly protected from commercial logging, subdivision and development.  Modern times are proving tough for redwoods as threats from climate change, encroaching development, intense wildfires, diminishing environmental policy, a booming weed industry, and logging grow

Encroaching Development & Land Conversion

This map compares the forest’s original range vs. its range toady

This map compares the forest’s original range vs. its range toady

Scientists have estimated that the coast redwood ecosystem covered 2 million acres before European settlement of Northern California. Since the settlement of Europeans, 25% of the redwood forest ecosystem has been lost to land conversion—farming, homes, businesses, and more recently vineyards. Of the remaining 1.5 million acres, only 5.6% are old-growth trees (meaning they have never been cleared). The remnants of old-growth forest, found mostly in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, remain as islands of isolated forests surrounded by degraded and fragmented landscapes of second-growth forests.  Nearly all of the remaining coastal redwood forest is fragmented by roads, residential development and agriculture, resulting in degraded habitat quality along the forest edge.

Climate Change

California’s climate is changing to one of extremes, meaning the only coastal redwoods on the planet are in grave danger. Climate change jeopardizes the redwoods’ ability to survive and thrive going forward; the problem is we don’t know exactly how climate change will impact the redwood forest. Scientists and activists alike are pushing to change that by calling for more research. Although more data is needed to calculate the full threat of rising temperatures, some organizations have already got the ball rolling on redwood conservation in the wake of climate change. The Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative(RCCI) is studying redwoods’ growth, vulnerabilities, early indicators of stress, and how these trees might respond to predicted climate events.

Another reason redwoods are relevant to climate change: Old-growth redwood forests store three to ten times more carbon than any other forest on Earth, making redwoods a huge asset in the fight against rising temperatures. There is extraordinary value of redwood and sequoia forests in sequestering carbon, cleaning our water, providing resilient habitat, and offering scenic beauty and inspiration

The Trump Administration

The Trump administration has opened protected lands across the United States to mineral, gas and oil development; diminished the size of national monuments in the southwest; reduced habitat protections for endangered species; and endorsed an amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The redwoods are no exception to Trump’s climate denial and aggressive overhaul of vital conservation efforts. Almost all of the giant sequoia forest ecosystem is protected in public and tribal ownership. Trump’s efforts to revisit resource extraction and the national monument status poses concern for many redwood forests.

Marijuana Industry Boom

Seen from the air are eight marijuana growing operations hacked from the redwood forests of Humboldt County.

Seen from the air are eight marijuana growing operations hacked from the redwood forests of Humboldt County.

That’s right folks, the booming weed industry is threatening the survival of the redwoods. The growing popularity of pot, along with increasing legalization, has turned marijuana cultivation into big business. Despite California's’ liberal reputation, the state has left regulation in the hands of local authorities who enforce lenient laws. Marijuana cultivation subjects northern coastal redwood  forests to a array of environmental damages: soil erosion, heavy pesticide use, stream diversion, irresponsible land clearing.

Want to Find Out More About Redwood Conservation?

Read this 26-page report paid for and compiled by the San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “State of the Redwoods Conservation” report  is the first comprehensive look at California’s current status of more than 1.6 million acres of coastal redwood forests and giant sequoia.

What Can You Do To Help?

Everything you need to know about visiting Samuel P. Taylor and protecting the iconic California redwoods
  • Honor someone you love by donating to plant a Redwood tree in their honor in the Santa Cruz mountains.

  • Support Redwood conservation by responsibly exploring some amazing National and State Parks that protect the forest from development:

    • Muir Woods National Park

    • Big Basin State Park

    • Redwood National Park

    • Samuel P. Taylor State Park

    • Sequoia National Park

    • Butano State Park

    • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    • Check out more redwood parks here

  • Donate to Save the Redwoods League - they have worked to protect over 200,000 acres of redwoods.