A few months ago, while visiting the West Coast, I toured the magnificent redwood forests of northern California. The drive up from San Francisco along the coast, and then inland through the forests is one of the prettiest roads imaginable. I passed through expansive woodlands packed thick with majestic 200-foot-tall redwood trees, some as wide as 12 feet across at their base. The air was moist, dewy sweet and aromatic.
I eventually wound my way to the narrow, twisting Avenue of the Giants, a 32-mile-long forest road that snakes its way through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Originally built as a stagecoach trail in the 1880s, the avenue now provides easy access to the most beautiful—and tallest—old-growth coastal redwoods anywhere in the world.
The best part of my trip by far, however, was when I stopped in to visit The California Redwood Company in Arcata, California. The CRC owns more than 430,000 acres of redwood forest and has been growing, cutting and milling redwood for over 120 years.
Interestingly when I told friends I was visiting a redwood lumber mill, they expressed shock normally reserved for people who club harp seals. Let me be clear: the CRC is 100 percent devoted to maintaining an environmentally sustainable and ecologically healthy forest for the redwoods and all the woodland creatures. The species of redwood that the CRC mills into lumber is not the Giant Sequoia tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that grows on protected lands throughout the Sierra Nevada region of California. The redwood trees harvested for lumber (Sequoia sempervirens) grow in abundance along the northern coast of California. But I digress. . . .
At the CRC, I got a personal tour of the sawmill by Vice President and General Manager, Carl Schoenhofer, and saw firsthand how raw longs got debarked and sawed up into dimensional lumber for building decks, fences and other outdoor structures. (Redwood is an ideal exterior wood because it’s naturally resistant to decay, rot and wood-boring bugs.) Then I stopped by to meet nursery superintendent, Glenn Lehar, who showed me the nursery filled with nearly 1.5 million tiny redwood seedlings. CRC is continuously planting new trees to replace those harvested.
Next, it was off to the forest with Operations Manager, Otto van Emmerick and wildlife biologist Lowell Diller. As we walked amongst the trees, the two men talked about growing and harvesting redwoods, and the diversity of life that the forest supports, including the spotted owl. Diller has been studying spotted owls for more than 25 years, and has disproved many common myths, including that the owls were an endangered species and could only survive in old-growth forests. Being a bird lover, I found the discussion fascinating.
After about 30 minutes, we stopped along the path, and Diller said that he was going to attempt to lure in a spotted owl for me to see up close. It was then that I noticed he had been carrying a small wooden box. Diller picked up a 3-foot-long branch from the forest floor and handed it to me. He then reached into the wooden box, pulled out a live mouse and placed it onto the end of the stick. Needless to say it was a bad day to be a mouse.
I held up the branch and within seconds, a spotted owl—with a 3-foot wingspan—swooped out of the trees, snatched the mouse off the stick, and returned to the forest. It was amazing, exhilarating and a bit scary all at the same time. I must admit to feeling a little sorry for the mouse, but then Diller pointed out the owl’s nest cradled in the crook of a tree, and I saw the mother owl feeding the mouse to its chicks.
I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the folks at The California Redwood Company. The day was an affirmation that through diligent fieldwork, sensitive harvesting, and stalwart stewardship the great California redwood forests—and creatures they support—will survive for many more generations.