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Burl Thieves Prompt Nighttime Road Closure At Redwood National And State Parks


Removal and theft of a burl not only destroys the beauty of a redwood, it can be fatal to the tree itself. NPS photo.

National parks face plenty of challenges from crooks determined to steal everything from cacti at Saguaro National Park to ginseng in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but a growing problem at Redwood National and State Parks takes plant thievery to a whole new level. Poaching of burls from redwood trees is destroying the huge trees, and has led to the nighttime closure of a road in the park.

According to park officials, "The Newton B. Drury Parkway at Redwood National and State Parks is being closed on a nightly basis as of Saturday, March 1, 2014. The parkway will be closed each day at sunset and reopened at sunrise. The hours of closure will be variable as the time of sunset and sunrise changes. Closure hours may also be impacted if staff is responding to other emergencies. Patrols will also be increased during this time to ensure the protection of our natural resources."

The Newton B. Drury Parkway is a 10-mile, one-way scenic drive that is described as a "not-to-be-missed alternative to U.S. 101. [It]  passes through the heart of the old-growth redwood forest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. North to south, features include numerous trailheads, Big Tree Wayside, Prairie Creek Visitor Center, Elk Prairie Campground, and a resident herd of Roosevelt elk."

Unfortunately, thieves are chipping away at that area's signature old-growth redwood forest at an alarming rate. Much of the poaching occurs at night, so the closure is a described as a proactive step toward preserving the parks' primary natural resources.

"This closure is in response to a significant increase in wood poaching crimes occurring along the parkway," a park spokesperson noted. "These crimes usually involve cutting burl and bunion growths from both standing and fallen old-growth redwood trees. 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 scenic road will remain open during daylight hours, so the change will have minimal impact on people engaged in legitimate activities in the park. If you're headed for the Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the closure will not be a problem. That site is still available both night and day by taking the Newton B. Drury Parkway exit (Exit 753) off of Highway 101.

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The majestic redwood forest is the primary feature in this park. Photo by brandonlevinger via flickr and Creative Commons.

Perhaps you're not familiar with the term "burl," which can be described as "large, bumpy masses on redwood trunks that can take the shape of gnarled faces or fanciful animals." They are used by the woodworking industry to make everything from bowls to coffee tables which are sold in "burl shops" found throughout the North Coast of California. You'll find further information about burls in this park publication

While the harvesting of burls from trees on privately-owned lands is legal, that's not the case in the park'”and thieves have become increasingly bold in the years since the Traveler reported on this and similar problems back in 2008.

Burls are often located near the base of a tree, but they can also occur almost anywhere along the trunk. Last year, poachers cut down an entire, 300-year-old old-growth redwood in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park unit just to saw off a burl that was 50 feet above the ground.  In a second incident the following week, the base of  a large redwood was deeply cut to remove the burl wood near the Tall Trees Trail along Redwood Creek.

As the photo at the top of this story shows, removing a burl anywhere on the tree not only destroys its beauty, it can be a fatal blow to these forest giants.

Unlike ginseng roots that poachers dig up in eastern parks and carry out in backpacks, the burls on a large redwood require a vehicle to haul away. It's hoped the reduced road access after dark can help reduce the number of these destructive crimes.

By the time this park was established in 1968, logging had removed about 90 percent of the California's original redwood forests. Protection of the few remaining stands came only after a long and difficult political battle, and at that time, few would likely have thought that small-time thieves rather than large-scale commercial loggers would pose a threat to these last surviving examples of the old-growth forest.


Redwood NP is now over 45 years old and the local Orick logging culture residents
have not changed their hateful attitudes toward the national park. The early 1968 RNP
staff was frequently threatened and trees at Lady Bird Johnson Grove vandalized.
Roosevelt Elk are another favorite target for this local poaching culture.
Given these historic realities, one would have
thought the park is now better protected. but the Law Enforcement ranger divisions of
these state and national parks have not been very effective in preventing poaching
during the daytime and much less so during the dark of night. Why have there been
few late night and early morning patrols with backup rangers ? RNP's budget has
been greater than many parks.

The other road which should be regulated and closed at night is the historic Howland Hill Road through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Even, RNP's environmental
school facility has been vandalized.
Why is the Obvious Not Obvious until someone points it out ?

RNP.s Chief Rangers have been disappointing at this level of Leadership,
so it is gratifying to learn that one Obvious positive step is being taken. Chainsaw
noise and gunshots carry through the night, but if there is no one to listen, the poachers
once again win, and they know it !

At RNP, there have been few high level managers truly passionate about protecting
old growth redwoods or even restoring second-growth stands to old-growth as the
Founders of the North Group, Sierra Club among many others. Sadly these NPS personalities transfer to RNP for promotions and better pay-grade retirements,
NOT BECAUSE they are passionate about actively managing and protecting old-growth coastal redwood forest fragments.

And there are those who think our parks should be turned over to the wise, benevolent, and tender care of the locals . . . .

Well Lee you managed to totally misconstrue the argument again. What "locals" did anyone suggest the parks should be turned over to.

These have to be the greediest SOB's anywhere. They need to catch a few of these guys and cut the "burls" off of them as an example.

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