Save the Redwoods League book-launch event offers closer look at California’s forgotten coast redwoods

The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley/Courtesy

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On Jan. 16, the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League ushered in its 101th year of conservation efforts with the launch of a new book: “The Once and Future Forest: California’s Iconic Redwoods.” There was a large turnout for the launch event at Heyday Books in Berkeley, despite the thunderstorm that evening.

The league and Heyday were able to undertake this project by bringing together a team of five notable writers who — through their storytelling and knowledge of the richness of culture and science — look back at the history and future of redwood conservation to narrate “the centennial journey in a way that is hopeful, helpful and inspiring,” said Sam Hodder, president and chief executive officer of the league.

Hodder gave the introductory remarks for the evening: “We envision redwood forests … protected forever, restored to old growth and connected to people through a network of parks and protected spaces,” Hodder said. “And we have a plan: We want to accelerate the scale of conservation. We want to inspire a new generation with the power of the incredible landscapes of coast redwoods.”

The writers have contributed their insights and expertise to the book in the form of essays and lyrical writing. Four of the five writers — David Harris, Greg Sarris, David Rains Wallace and Meg Lowman, with Gary Ferguson absent — spoke at the launch event.

The lead essay in the book is by journalist and author Harris, who is probably best known for founding a resistance movement opposing the draft during the Vietnam War. As a reporter, Harris has also covered the struggles with a lumber company in Humboldt County. At the event, Harris spoke to his intimate personal relationship with redwoods: “I live right next to (a redwood). The bulk of my essay is about what living with such a tree does to me,” he said. “When we can develop a personal relationship with the rest of the species that we share the planet with, we stand a chance of survival.”

Sarris is the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a Californian Native American tribe. His essay in “The Once and Future Forest” focuses on the enduring relationships that indigenous people have with the coast redwoods: “For indigenous people … (the redwoods have) become mnemonic pegs on which we know stories and hence know ourselves and the rules of the land,” Sarris said. “Of course, with colonization, much has been lost. Today, so many indigenous people are trying to remember the story of the landscape so that we can create a home with space for all. … (These redwoods are) the oldest creatures … the grandfathers and grandmothers who can teach us.”

Wallace is another well-known author in the conservation field. As he began his work on this book, he wondered why conservationist John Muir — who all but single-handedly saved California’s giant sequoias — did not do much to preserve coast redwoods.

“There is real opportunity to re-establish an old-growth forest (of) … coast redwoods,” Wallace stated. He said he would like to fulfill the conservation agenda toward coast redwoods, just as Muir did with giant sequoias.

As a canopy ecologist and self-declared “arbonaut” at the California Academy of Sciences, Lowman has a science-based approach to conservation. Just as astronauts study outer space, Lowman explained that arbonauts study the canopies of trees. As the first person to become an arbonaut in 1979, she has “probably trained just about everybody in the field,” according to Lowman.

At the launch, Lowman stressed the importance of canopy ecology to conservation: “Half of the biodiversity in the world lives in the tops of trees collectively, and about 90 percent of that has never been studied,” Lowman said. She sadly pointed out that we are racing against time, as half of the world’s forests have been lost in her lifetime alone. She voiced hopes that everyday people and policymakers will be able to work together to make sure these iconic redwoods are here for future generations.

“The Once and Future Forest” interweaves these authors’ essays with some breathtaking photography that captures the essence of the redwoods. Through the book, it is easy to fall in love with these magnificent trees. Granted, there is some irony in a physical book that advocates for the preservation of coast redwoods. But as Steve Wasserman, publisher and executive director of Heyday, was quick to point out, “No redwoods were milled for this book.”

Contact Hari Srinivasan at [email protected].