Sunday, May 10, 2009
Last of the Giants
Come with me on a story that started three thousand years ago. In a forest of giant trees, on the slope of a beautiful mountainside in central California, a little tree was born. The tree had ample room to grow and thrived in rich soil where a nearby stream nourished its roots and plentiful rainfall kept the ground moist. The earth around the young tree was covered with lichens and moss and fat brown salamanders lived in pools and rocks near the river.
At this time three thousand years ago, this forest had no humans living nearby. But across the oceans in other lands, humans were thriving. The people of ancient Greece were enthralled by the tales of Homer. The ancient Phoenicians were developing writing and the Egyptians were building grand pyramids in the desert.
After a thousand years of living, back in our grove of trees on this continent, our young tree had now emerged as a giant alongside its peers. The tree had survived natural fires that had cleared the undergrowth in the forest, protected by its cinder free bark. The clearings allowed the tree’s roots to develop and spread, giving it room to grow and its tall canopy now reached two hundred feet into the sky.
At this time, across the ocean in another land, a baby human was born in a manger surrounded by animals and visited by angels and wise men who came from afar with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, or so the story goes.
Another thousand years passed and our tree, now two thousand years old, continues to thrive in its grove of ancients along the coast. Countless generations of flying squirrels and owls and other birds have lived and died within its branches, and many families of deer, coyote, bobcats, cougars, wolf and bear have traveled through and nested within the forest floor. The tree is now close to three hundred feet tall.
In another land across the ocean, humans are fighting each other for territory. Feudalism is raging in Europe.
Another thousand years passed and our tree is now three thousand years old. It is still standing but only because it has survived within a small grove of trees. All around it though, are the scars of a terrible destruction. For the past one hundred and fifty years, most of its species has been killed off. Men came and settled the land and brought their saws and logging trucks and caterpillar machines. In all, only about sixty to seventy groves remain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California.
This tree is the Giant Sequoia. The Giant Sequoias are considered to be the longest living species on the planet. The General Sherman Tree, named for the Civil War general, is thought to be about two thousand seven hundred years old and it remains living in the Sequoia National Park. The tree is two hundred and seventy five feet tall (about as tall as a twenty six storey building) and an amazing one hundred and two feet in circumference.
About half of the remaining groves of sequoias are located in Sequoia National Park but in 2000, President Clinton saved another three dozen groves of these magnificent trees by designating them as the Giant Sequoia National Monument. One would have thought that this action would have saved them from the hands of the timber companies however one grave mistake was made. Clinton placed the trees in the care of the Forest Service instead of the care of the National Park Service. So this was like leaving the sheep in the care of the wolves. Unfortunately, the Forest Service allowed the timber companies to continue their logging under the misguided guise of clearing the undergrowth.
Fortunately, with the pressure of such groups as the Sierra Club and Sequoia Forestkeeper, a judge put an end to this recently. What is desperately needed is passing of the Act to Save the Forests. I urge you to contact your representatives and ask them to pass this important piece of legislation which was first introduced in Congress in 1997, which would protect the last remaining forests of America. Only five percent of this country’s virgin forests remain and we must do what we can to preserve the last of the giant sequoias and other great trees from destruction.
As a consumer, you can purchase lumber that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This is wood from forests that are sustainably managed, where endangered species are protected and the forest ecosystem is not disturbed and damaged by destructive methods such as clear cutting.
Finally, I urge you to go and visit the last of these ancient giants that remain with us. See for yourself what it is like to walk amongst them. People go to Egypt and Greece to see the Pyramids and the Parthenon. We have an equally worthy monument to visit here in this country. These trees are living monuments that have survived through the fall and rise of civilizations.
One hundred years ago, John Muir, the great nature writer and grandfather of the National Park Service wrote:
It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ’s time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people. (qt. from Yosemite Online website)