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It is no secret that California is a diverse and beautiful state. The scenery here is as varied as its people and everyone has their favorite place to visit. For some, it's Yosemite National Park, others are drawn to our beaches or the Sierra Nevada mountains. For me, it is California's old growth Redwood forests, particularly those in the Redwood National and State Parks on the North Coast of California. The first time I went, I nearly wept at the awesome beauty around me. The stillness and majesty of these ancient trees never fails to restore my soul. Knowing just how much I love these forests, my friends took me there to heal the weekend after my mother died. I even have instructions in my will to scatter a very small amount of my ashes in one of my favorite groves. That is how much they mean to me.
Some of the oldest trees in the park are 2,000 years old, with most of the trees averaging between 500-700 years. Everywhere around you, these ancient living things stand as testimony to what the Northern Coast of California once looked like before the logging began. Once covering a region of over 2,000,000 acres, today only approximately 100,000 acres of old growth forest remain.
Archeological records show that Native Americans inhabited the land as far back as 3,000 years ago. The Yurok, Tolowa, Karok, Chilula, and Wiyot all share history with the land. Left largely ignored by explorers, things changed dramatically for the region during the Gold Rush. In 1850, gold was discovered along the Trinity River and the forests were soon overrun by people looking to get rich. As certainly as I sit here typing this, you know would come next.
The newcomers pushed the American Indians off their land, hunted them down, scorned, raped, and enslaved them. Resistance – and many of the American Indians did resist – was often met with massacres. Militia units composed of unemployed miners and homesteaders set forth to rid the countryside of "hostile" Indians, attacking villages and, in many documented cases, slaughtering men, women, and even infants. Upon their return, these killers were treated as heroes, and paid by the state government for their work.
Treaties that normally allotted American Indians reservations were never ratified in this part of California. Although treaties were signed, the California delegation lobbied against them on the grounds that they left too much land in Indian hands. Reservations were thus never established by treaty, but rather by administrative decree.
To this day, the displacement of many tribes, the lack of treaty guarantees, and the absence of federal recognition of their sovereignty continue to cloud the legal rights of many American Indians.
While some continued to pan for gold, others saw big bucks in logging. And log they did. By the end of the 19th century, massive swaths of old growth forest had been felled. By 1910, people not corrupted and blighted by greed began to raise the alarm that if something wasn't done, we would lose the last remaining remnants of our Redwood forests forever. The Save the Redwoods League was established in 1918. They had their work cut out for them. Their battle to save the Redwoods would be uphill, but even before they were chartered, they had secured the National Park Service in their mission.
In 1917, the head of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, persuaded our founders—prominent conservationists John C. Merriam, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn—to investigate the state of the redwood forests in Northern California. They heard the new Redwood Highway had opened up the area to more logging and tourism, threatening the ancient trees. Along the Mendocino County coast, they passed long-standing logging operations. Farther north, along the Eel River, they saw practically undisturbed forests. As they continued north, they reached the Bull Creek-Dyerville Flat area in Humboldt County, an area dense with gigantic redwoods reaching more than 300 feet high.They managed to save these magnificent remaining stands of forest, but the vigil for their survival continues. There are still areas of old growth that are under threat of logging due to either growing on private land or people logging illegally. Budget cuts to the National Park Service will always be threatened by Republicans eager to aid their powerful lobbyists. Of course, all of these threats pail in comparison to the threat climate change exposes this delicate ecosystem to. The thought of that makes me too sad to contemplate in this diary.
In the presence of such awe-inspiring beauty and serenity, Merriam, Grant and Osborn felt compelled to remove their hats and speak only in whispers. That evening, they agreed that a state or national park was needed to save some part of the north coast redwood forest for future generations.
I'll leave it with this note. If you are ever in the position to make it to this part of our country, do it. There are many beautiful places to camp in these forests. There is hiking, swimming and inner tubing on the river, sweet little towns to visit, and beauty such that pictures cannot capture. Sometimes all I have to do to relax is shut my eyes and recall the smell. If heaven exists, I picture it to be much like these forests.
Now on to Tops!