THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | May 1, 2018, 7:13PM
Millions of people venture into California’s redwood forests to tilt their heads and behold the giants that stand taller than a football field set on end, can live for more than 2,500 years and form the backbones of coastal woodlands from Big Sur to southern Oregon.
At Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve near Guerneville, the 308-foot Colonel Armstrong tree stands so tall that earthbound admirers can’t see the behemoth’s uppermost 100 feet.
But it and the other old-growth redwoods of equal majesty are essentially relics, comprising a mere 7 percent of the 1.6 million acres of the coastal redwoods, a species that flourished throughout the Northern Hemisphere during the age of dinosaurs and is now found nowhere else on Earth but the California-Oregon coast.
Just over 90 percent of the redwood forests are relatively slender second-growth trees that sprouted within the last 20 to 100 years and, unlike their massive elders, face a perilous future of more frequent and intense wildfires brought on by climate change.
“That was jaw-dropping to us,” said Emily Burns, director of science for Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has worked to protect and restore redwoods since 1918. “We saw there wasn’t much old growth left.”
Burns is a co-author of the league’s 52-page study, “State of Redwoods Conservation Report,” assessing the health of redwoods after a two-century onslaught from commercial logging, development, road building and agriculture, as well as fire suppression.