By Tommy Hough
We're pleased to welcome ranger Lou Sian of the National Park Service to this edition of Treehiggers International, as we talk about the magnificence of the coastal Redwood forest ecosystem, and how the effort to preserve one of the last surviving old-growth groves of Redwoods minutes away from the growing metropolis of San Francisco in the first decade of the 20th century resulted in what is today Muir Woods National Monument.
Redwoods have a special place in western conservation culture. Along with being the tallest trees in the world, Redwoods are some of the world's most rot-resistant trees, and by virtue of their bark, size, and surrounding ecosystem, Redwoods are amazingly fire-resistant. Other than man, or the occasional well-placed windstorm, Redwoods have no natural enemies, and can thrive for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Growing in groves of five or six in a small, thin coastal band from Big Sur to the Oregon border, Redwoods once covered some two million acres of the Northern California coast. But due to over-logging, and a willful lack of understanding about the Redwood forest ecosystem, those once great stands were denuded to the few stands which survive today. While most surviving old-growth Redwood groves have since been preserved in various state, federal and county parks, some ancient Redwood groves survive today on private timberland, and calls for their preservation occasionally percolate to the surface.
One of the last surviving stands of old-growth Redwoods in the nearby proximity of San Francisco, Muir Woods lies in the Redwood Creek drainage on Mount Tamalpais in southwestern Marin County less than five miles from the sea, and was one of the first National Park Service units established in what is now collectively managed as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Almost the entirety of the monument is bordered by Mount Tamalpais State Park, which can be accessed from trails in the upper reaches of the canyon on the northern end of the monument.
Like classic Redwood forests, Muir Woods relies upon fog for regular moisture. This abundance of fog results in a locally wet environment which ensures explosive plant growth similar to that found in the verdant Pacific Northwest. But as the climate warms, fog is becoming less of a regularity than even 100 years ago, and reduced rainfall also points to a shelf life for Redwoods that may eventually see the trees migrate north, provided soil conditions are right.
Established by President Theodore Roosevet in 1908 under the auspices of the Antiquities Act passed two years earlier, Muir Woods became the first National Monument created from land donated by a private individual rather than land already in federal government inventory. Roosevelt was initially made aware of the threatened Redwoods by Marin County businessman and future congressman William Kent, after a Sausalito water company announced plans to dam the canyon. With Kent's help, Roosevelt ensured the land was transferred to the federal government, naming the monument for the great California naturalist, savior of Yosemite, and Sierra Club founder John Muir.
Thanks to Lindsay Bartsh at the National Parks Conservation Association, Muir Woods site supervisor Mia Monroe, and Paul Lancour from KQED for their help with this program.
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Photos by Tommy Hough © 2011
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in the 2018 election cycle.