I did not expect to run into loggers on my journey through redwood parks. But adjacent to Big Basin Redwoods State Park lies property that belongs to the reportedly largest timber company in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, Redtree Properties (formerly Santa Cruz Lumber).
Bruce Baker, a retired logger of 30 years and currently the company’s public representative saw me looking at my maps and came over to help me locate the trailhead. I delayed my hike an hour and a half while he took some time to show me how Redtree carries out sustainable forestry.
The private gate screeched open and we went to a nearby redwood grove. Here he compared the old growth redwood stumps with 2nd growth beside them and much younger trees showing that the company does not practice clearcutting. Only four to five percent of old growth redwoods remain and that’s thanks to the sustained activism of environmentalists in the last century and a half who have ensured that laws and regulations were put in place to guarantee the protection of old growth. Below are a couple of the guidelines and laws that keep logging companies in line.
- Clearcutting is illegal.
- Redtree cuts trees only if the diameter is at least 18 inches and circumference is greater than about 56 inches, a measure larger than most people’s reach around a tree. The law allows a tree with a smaller circumference to be felled.
- Redtree won’t come back to log the same grove for 13 years. Legally a company only has to wait 10 years.
- Logging companies have to hire a forester annually to come in and look for marbled murrelet nests. Murrelets spend most of their time at sea, but nest in the canopy of old growth trees. Any tree holding a nest can not be logged.
When I saw the size of the old growth stumps Bruce was pointing out, I wanted to weep at the loss of life. But I found solace in the fact that Peninsula Open Space Trust recently purchased (March 2019) 937 acres of second growth and old growth redwoods in two different plots from private landowners. One of the plots is located across the street from where we were standing. It will be open to the public once it is integrated into Butano State Park.
Finally, I got to the hiking part of the day. I went southwest on the Skyline to the Sea trail for a few miles. This northern part of Big Basin park seems drier than the southwest region where the visitor center is located and the old growth live. Nonetheless, I did see sandstone and old growth dripping with moss. The trail climbed gradually through old growth stumps and second growth redwoods. Part of the surrounding area lacked density of trees. But further on, tanoaks some only a foot high, others over 100’, filled the space under the redwoods. The most mature tanoak can be as tall as 200 feet. Not real oaks— tanoaks are in the beech family and grow in redwood habitats because they need moisture and shade. Animals don’t care what family the oaks are in, of course, and they consume tanoak acorns along with acorns from various oak species. Deep roots contribute to tanoak survival, but Sudden Oak Death, a disease caused by a pathogen, can kill a tanoak as well as a true oak.
The forest appeared segmented. What came next were huckleberry bushes, then madrones and finally, bay trees. I wondered if earlier logging operations had disrupted a more naturally integrated forest.
Wildflowers had dried up with the exception of a few rein orchids in different spots. I noticed a California Sister butterfly spending a long time on tanoak leaves. Other than a couple of white butterflies, no other colorful insects flew by.
You can get to the northern part of Big Basin via Highway 9. Park at Sempervirens Point. Pick up the Skyline to the Sea trail there and you can head north or south.