National Geographic : 2009 Oct
ESSAY BY J. MICHAEL FAY THE REDWOODS POINT THE WAY ON DAY 323 of the transect, in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, I dropped over a log 18 feet in diameter into an abyss of giant botanical pickup sticks, deadfall that had piled up amid the living trees over thousands of years. Another fallen monster loomed. Grabbing huckleberry roots and clumps of sword ferns, I hauled myself and my 60-pound pack up its organic wall onto a trunk as long as a football field. Filthy and exhausted, surrounded by hundreds of tower- ing redwood columns that were raining their captured fog on my head, I stood there over- whelmed by a scene straight out of the Jurassic. I ve been walking in forests for 40 years; never could I have imagined a woods as grand as this. Staring skyward through the somber silhou- ettes, I thought about the timberman who had described his company s patchwork of clear- cuts, with their sun-drenched mix of tiny trees interspersed with strips of older redwoods, as functionally the same as an old-growth forest. No amount of persuasive conversation or data will ever convince me of that. is isn t about loving big trees. It s about the fact that I spent 333 days walking 1,800 miles through the entire range of the redwoods with a notebook in my hand, documenting details about this ecosystem---and witnessing the a ermath of the cutting of at least 95 percent of the most wood-laden forest on Earth. Timber folks know the history---most I met in redwood country used words like nuked, ham- mered, blitzed, wasted, and raped to describe the logging of the past. e landscape bears them out. I spent too many days on the transect push- ing past gigantic stumps, through weedy stands of small trees amid crumbling road systems, over eroded hillsides, and across rivers choked with gravel and silt, whose sheries had collapsed. It was a landscape shaped by greed and waste. e time to argue about the wisdom of liqui- dating the resource base of the planet is over. In the redwoods I found many who agree. Dave Lewers, whom I joined on the 12,000- acre Flat Ridge Ranch he meticulously manages in Sonoma County, said it best: " ey might think I m a gun-toting, right-wing redneck, but what they have to understand is, they ve got our attention." e "they" are environmental- ists and state regulators, and what Lewers meant was that he is a frontline participant in e orts to restore the redwood forest. All along the transect I met foresters, owners, J. Michael Fay is a conservationist and senior explorer at the Wildlife Conservation Society and a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. A conservationist sees a new wave of enlightened forestry as a model for wiser stewardship of nature.