“I’ve seen just about everything.”
Robert Redford — playing The Redwood in our Nature Is Speaking film — sums up the incredible life history of redwood trees, which are older and bigger than most living things on Earth.
We can look upon trees that grew under the same sun as Julius Caesar and were already immense by the time Columbus traveled to the New World. But although they capture our imagination, few realize that just a short time ago, these botanical “dinosaurs” and national treasures were on the brink of destruction.
Logging of these giants began soon after westward expansion reached California in the mid-19th century. Yet the majesty of redwoods was enough to eventually convince President Abraham Lincoln that these trees needed to be protected.
In 1864, during the height of the Civil War, Lincoln took the remarkable step of setting aside the Mariposa Grove of redwoods and sequoias for “public use and recreation … for all time” — essentially creating the first protected area in the country, and in so doing acknowledging that forests have a value beyond the sum of their timber. Public good had won out over short-term private business interests.
But the redwood story did not end there. Although more patches of redwoods have been protected over time, incredibly the logging of giant redwoods continued well into the 1960s and eventually saw over 90% of these ancient trees being cut down for what is considered to be timber of mediocre quality. Continue reading