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Bringing back California’s redwood forests

Bringing back California’s redwood forests

Redwoods store more aboveground carbon than any forest on Earth. Now, work is beginning to restore these forests that once stretched across coastal Northern California. Only 5% of California’s redwood forests have never been logged. An initiative to restore these forests is gaining momentum, aided by research showing that redwoods store more aboveground carbon than any forest on Earth. Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that established the Redwood National Park in California 55 years ago. It was a long time coming, with proposals blocked in the 1920s, 30s and 40s by an industry that was beavering through the most valuable timberlands on the planet. When the National Park Service recommended a park again in 1964, bipartisan support in the Senate, a nod from President Johnson and, I believe, the trees’ own power to inspire eventually got a deal through Congress. The national park was not the first redwood park. Several small California state parks had been created decades earlier. But it was the first from which most of the old growth had already been removed. Created in two phases, in 1968 and 1978, 75% of our national park had been razed. Overall, the public owns over 100,000 acres (405 sq km) of injured, young forest on federal and state land. Land managers are trying to actively nurture some of them into new old growth. Tactics include one-time thinning of dense stands, prescribed fire, closing roads, dropping trees in streams to make salmon-friendly pools, ongoing selective logging to favour a few large trees, and just leaving the forests alone. Restoration has drawn recent attention and picked up momentum with the launch of Redwoods Rising, an ambitious recovery program. Operations began in 2020 and have been gaining urgency, as the impacts of climate change have become a part of everyday life in the region, and a growing body of science has shown that old-growth redwoods store more aboveground carbon than any forest on Earth, up 2,600 tonnes per hectare (0.01 sq km). That’s three to five times as much as even the oldest secondary forests. “The only vegetation that grows faster is sorghum and sugarcane,” says University of Washington scientist Robert Van Pelt. But a redwood forest still takes a long time to grow, and, in an era when short-term thinking threatens the very liveability of our planet, it’s extraordinary that people are investing careers and great sums of money in these projects. Redwoods get big after a few hundred years but take much longer to develop their most unique features, such as dazzling canopy gardens of ferns, berry bushes, small trees and fauna normally found on the forest floor. Van Pelt and colleagues point out that in a bona fide old-growth ecosystem some of the trees are old enough to fall over and decompose, forming “a silvatic mosaic much older than its oldest trees”. While redwood forest restoration is largely a gift to the distant future, some life comes back quickly. Ben Blom, director of stewardship and restoration for Save the Redwoods League, says that coho salmon can reappear a year after roads are repaired and stop bleeding sediment into creeks. The response can be equally swift as sunlight returns to the floor of a thinned forest, diversifying understory plants. Original Article

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