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 silhouettes, 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. This 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 aftermath 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, hammered, blitzed, wasted, and raped to describe the logging of the past. The landscape bears them out. I spent too many days on the transect pushing 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 fisheries had collapsed. It was a landscape shaped by greed and waste.
The time to argue about the wisdom of liquidating 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: "They might think I'm a gun-toting, right-wing redneck, but what they have to understand is, they've got our attention." The "they" are environmentalists and state regulators, and what Lewers meant was that he is a frontline participant in efforts to restore the redwood forest.
All along the transect I met foresters, owners, and loggers who talk as if they've discovered the holy grail of redwood management. People like Jim Able, Jim Greig, and Ed Tunheim who have found a way to bring vigor back to this ecosystem—and stay in business at the same time. What they're learning, and how they're applying that knowledge, can serve as a blueprint for the entire redwood range. Their ability to supply large amounts of lumber for humanity and improve ecosystem function is an approach that should be adopted around the world.