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Disturbing evidence of an 8x10-foot section of 'poached' burl-wood. Photo: US National Park Service.
Disturbing evidence of an 8x10-foot section of 'poached' burl-wood. Photo: US National Park Service.
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Redwood thieves force California forest curfew

Oliver Tickell

6th March 2014

Thieves are stealing valuable growths of bud tissue from the trunks of Coast redwood trees in California, putting their long term survival at risk. Park authorities have responded by closing a road used by the thieves at night.

the wood is manufactured into a host of consumer items, from trinkets such as book ends, coasters, pendants and novelty pens, to wall-clocks, large slabs, tables and other furntiture that may sell for over $1,000 in specialist shops or online.

The Newton B. Drury Parkway - a road through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California - is to be closed between sunset and sunrise following a spate of redwood tree thefts.

The nocturnal thieves do not steal entire trees, which weight hundreds of tonnes, but valuable burl and bunion growths, which are cut from both standing and fallen old-growth redwood trees using long-bladed chainsaws. These are then hauled out of the forest on all-terrain vehicles.

Next the wood is manufactured into a host of consumer items, from trinkets such as book ends, coasters, pendants and novelty pens, to wall-clocks, large slabs, tables and other furntiture that may sell for over $1,000 in specialist shops or online.

Raw burl-wood sells for $2-3 per pound unseasoned. Hundreds of redwood burl items are on sale on Ebay.

'Increasingly rare'

"This closure is in response to a significant increase in wood poaching crimes occurring along the parkway", according to a Park spokesman. "These crimes usually involve cutting The wood is then sold for construction materials, ornamental furniture, and souvenirs. 

"This type of wood is becoming increasingly rare and the most plentiful supply is often found on park lands. The closure is a proactive step toward preserving our State's priceless natural resources."

The burls and bunbions may be cut legitimately buy private redwood forest owners from their own trees. However the practice is illegal on redwood trees on public land including national and state parks and forests.

The publicly owned redwood parts amount to some 133,000 acres - a huge area to police agains the thieves, but a small fraction of the 2 million acres the redwood forest once covered.

Bud tissue allows tree to regrow

The burls comprise a mass of bud tissue waiting to burst forth if the tree is blown over, capable of producing a mass of new growth and allowing the tree to regrow from its base. "The large, bumpy masses on redwood trunks can take the shape of gnarled faces or fanciful animals", according to a Park Service leaflet.

"These shapes are burls, masses of unsprouted bud tissue that store copies of the trees’ genetic material. While the redwood forest can be easily harmed by human and natural events, the coast redwood’s (Sequoia sempervirens) ability to resprout from burls lends a sense of timelessness to individual trees."

However the theft of the burls can - if performed carelessly - damage the structural integrity if a living redwood and make it more liable to fall in a storm. 

It also means that the tree loses its essential reproductive tissue. So in the event that the main trunk does fall, the buds that it needs to resprout new growth are missing and the tree, capable of living for over a thousand years, is condemned to an early death.

 

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