Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, June 2 @ 4:43 p.m.
Five Years Off The Ground, Redwoods Rising Crews Have Thinned 2,600 Acres, Removed 22 Miles of Roads, Restored 3 Miles of Stream, RNSP Official Says
Five years into an endeavor to return old-growth characteristics to about 70,000 acres of former timberland within Redwood National and State Parks, Steve Meitz says the project is showing progress.
Three years since starting the Redwoods Rising project, crews have thinned 2,600 acres of forest, removed 22 miles of road and restored about three miles of streams. Now that things are drying out, crews will head back into the woods June 15.
“Some streams are having fish reoccupy them,” the Redwood National and State Parks superintendent told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. “The same endangered trout and salmon for the cultural heritage of the Yurok and tribal people that call the park their ancestral home.”
Redwoods Rising is a partnership between the National Park Service, California State Parks and the Save the Redwoods League.
The nonprofit raised $65 million, providing the seed money to get the endeavor shovel-ready for the first 45,000 acres that are focusing on the Mill Creek and Prairie Creek watersheds.
According to Meitz, Redwood National and State Parks wants to restore about 70,000 acres of former timberland to old-growth characteristics.
“About two-thirds of Redwood National and State Parks is second-growth forest that was mostly clear cut or pretty heavily harvested and re-seeded aerially with Doug fir,” he said. “What’s regrown is a very unhealthy forest and it needs to be managed. And there are hundreds of miles of roads left behind eroding into creeks and not providing habitat for fish and other critters.”
When Congress established Redwood National Park in 1968, restoration work went along with that authorization. However, funding for that work dried up in about the year 2000, Meitz said. Though the research was there showing that thinning these second-growth forests would help accelerate old-growth characteristics, it took a partnership with Save the Redwoods League to get that work off the ground.
A programmatic approach to environmental permitting has enabled people to continue to contribute funding to the project and see their money be put to work right away, Meitz said.
“We don’t have to go through a long planning and compliance process,” he said.
Old-growth characteristics in a forest consists of three levels of tree canopy structure, Meitz said. There might be gaps allowing light to reach the forest floor. Much of the thinning work involves removing those spindly Douglas firs allowing the redwoods access to the nutrients and resources they need to grow faster, he said.
In the 25,000 acre Mill Creek watershed upstream from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park there is evidence that some stands of trees will take on old-growth characteristics at about 90 years old, Meitz said. Trees are two to four feet wide at about six feet off the ground and there are species coming back that can only live in a redwood forest canopy, he said.
The re-seeded areas in the watershed grew thick stands of trees that block light from other plants, Meitz said. There’s no understory, no wildlife habitat and the area’s prone to wildfire, he said.
Though upper Prairie Creek houses an old-growth redwood forest, the watershed’s lower reaches are a patchwork of young and old forest.
Redwoods Rising aims to create 30,000 contiguous acres of old-growth redwood forest in the Prairie Creek watershed. Currently, Redwood National and State Parks is treating about 10,000 acres in Prairie Creek, Meitz said.
“It’s generational,” he said of the project. “The people working on it today will never see the results. This will be something that our children and grandchildren may start to see the real results of. Although, with that said, within a year, fish are reoccupying some of the streams. The Prairie Creek watershed is one of the last strongholds of salmon and trout.”
RNSP has partnered with the Yurok Tribe to put some of its members to work within their ancestral territory. The Save the Redwoods League also started an apprenticeship program at Cal Poly Humboldt, working with students to measure tree trunks and do other scientific monitoring to track the program’s progress.
“We have folks doing plant surveys and wildlife surveys,” Meitz said. “There will be a big push for us in the next five years to get information out, both through the lay public and in scientific journals. We’re creating that path for other places to feel safe and comfortable to do this work.”
According to Meitz, Redwoods Rising’s operational costs for the first three years has been $7,000 per acre of forest thinning and $380,000 per mile for road removal.
“We re-contour the mountain and fix that geological break so the road is no longer the road,” he said. “We’re not just closing the road.”
Recognizing the role heavy equipment like bulldozers and excavators play in this project, RNSP is looking to renovate and restore an old fish hatchery near Orick to create a training center for operators throughout the National Park Service.
Meitz said the Yurok Tribe is also involved in that project as well, restoring two houses to provide a place to live for those coming from out of the area. He said he envisions training folks from the Crater Lake, Oregon Caves, Whiskey Town, Lassen and Lava Beds National Park units.
RNSP is also partnering with Cal Poly and College of the Redwoods to develop a curricula for the program.
“We had our first planning workshop with the Yurok Tribe. The Resighini (Rancheria) was there and the Tolowa,” he said. “We had a few tribes brainstorming about how do we want to see the old hatchery building become a training center.”
Meitz said in addition to doing the permitting work and planning, he’ll be out searching for funding to get the training center built.
“There’s a need,” he said. “The work is there. Now we want local folks in Del Norte and Humboldt to stay here and do this work rather than importing someone from North Carolina to do the Redwood Rising work.”
A partnership with Del Norte County Unified School District to create the Greater Outdoor Access Program is one way heavy equipment training could benefit locals, Meitz said.
“If they’re interested in this type of work we can get them into internships, whether it’s forestry work or heavy equipment work within the parks,” Meitz said. “Everyone recognizes the need for a training center. Everyone recognizes the need for youth to have high-paying jobs. It’s ambitious. Stay tuned is what I would say.”