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Redwood burl poaching endangers tree, human lives in northern California

From Monterey County in California, north to the Chetco River approximately 15 miles north of the California-Oregon border and east for anywhere from 5-47 miles is a narrow swath of trees that grow almost nowhere else in the world. This 470 mile long strip of land is home to Sequoia sempervirens, sometimes known as the coast redwood or California redwood. Anyone who has ever seen this majestic trees or walked among them knows the awe-inspiring wonder they provide. Unfortunately, part of their unique qualities have made them vulnerable to poachers who risk not only the health of the redwood forest, but human lives, as well.

Redwood burls being taken illegally-slide0
Annomundi786 /WikiCommons
Sunlight filters through a stand of redwood trees in Redwood National Park
Public Domain/Redwood National Park employee

The harvesting of redwood burls - a large, misshapen growth on the sides of the trees - has been done for centuries. Furniture, paneling and numerous other items have been crafted from these one-of-a-kind pieces of wood for nearly as long as man has known the trees existed. However, in recent years with the knowledge of the environmental impact to cutting old growth trees has grown, the legal business of burl harvesting has diminished and illegal poachers have taken its place.

Recently CNN reported on the prevalence of poachers in northern California national and state parks and the battle to stop the criminals. Park officials have even had to close a scenic byway known as Newton B. Drury Parkway from dusk to dawn to deter those who would come in after dark to cut the burls from the sides of the hundreds- and thousands-year-old trees. Not only does the cutting of burls from standing trees open them up to infestation from disease, it also weakens them. Weakened trees fall over more easily in windstorms and are more susceptible to fire danger. A fire in a redwood forest can spread quickly to residential areas and threaten the lives of hundreds, if not thousands.

For those who have not yet visited a redwood forest, there is still plenty of time to do so. The poaching of burls has not destroyed entire forests, like some poaching in other parts of the world, and there are thousands upon thousands of acres of old growth redwood that has been set aside in public trust. However, when purchasing anything made from redwood burl, inquire as to how the burl was harvested. There are legal means by which items from burl can be made. Timber companies can obtain salvage rights and burls can also come from trees on private property being cleared for development.

For more information about Redwood National and State Parks, visit the following website: http://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm