Old Growth Redwoods
by Debbie Bulger
Only 4% remains of the old growth redwoods that existed before logging began in California in 1850. The historic range consisted of two million acres.
To get an up-close view of what we have lost and the bit that remains, my daughter Suzie and I backpacked down Redwood Creek in Redwood National Park in June.
Suzie Bulger Silverman.
Unlike many second-growth redwood forests, or so-called “Trophy Groves” which preserve only trees and not the full habitat, old growth contains a wealth of diversity. Trees of all ages abide as well as a mix of species including redwoods, Doug fir, spruce, big-leaf maple, and a multi-layered understory.
The understory was so thick and varied as to be almost impenetrable. There were Thimble berries, Salmon berries, shoulder-high ferns, shaggy lichens hanging down from branches, and mosses everywhere. Overgrown elk trails provided the only semblance of passage off trail. Toads hid among the litter, and the creek bed provided our travel way. The fog hung low, and much of the time the foliage was wet.
Downed trees and standing snags provided food for the large variety of birds and animals we observed. My daughter Suzie, who has a degree in wildlife biology, was the perfect guide. She was the first to spot the family of river otters on Redwood Creek. The mother otter seemed to be teaching her kids how to fish. They were a treat to watch.
Two female Common Mergansers paddled by as we hiked. One with eight young, the other with six swimming behind her. Hiking on a trail paralleling Redwood Creek, we spotted a newborn elk calf and its mother just off the trail. The spotted calf was still unsteady as it wobbled after its mother.
Each morning and evening we were serenaded by the rattle of Kingfishers and the squeaky-brake imitation of the Varied Thrush. One morning I got up at 5:30 to listen for marbled murrelets. Downstream trees poked out above the low-hanging fog producing a lovely, soft image.
Old Growth forests are exceedingly rare. Knowing more about what we have lost increases our appreciation for what remains.