“Right” and “Wrong” Redwoods?

Some redwoods are genetically adapted to wet, foggy environments; some are better suited to drier locales.
Some redwoods are genetically adapted to wet, foggy environments; some are better suited to drier locales.

Redwoods are redwoods, right?  And when we want to restore forests, it’s as simple as just planting some redwoods, right?  You may not be surprised to hear that the business of replanting a forest is a bit more complicated than that.

When we work to restore forests, we try to make sure that the forests we rebuild are as close as possible to those that were lost. There is an element of rectitude about this for sure, a sense that we have an obligation to repair a place as closely as possible to the original, but there are also very practical reasons for doing so.

The range of redwoods stretches for more than 400 miles from north to south, and along this distance the forest changes dramatically.  The dry canyons of Big Sur hardly resemble the moist floodplain of the Smith River.  As the environment changes, so do the trees that have adapted to the very particular conditions where they grow.

Finding the right trees for a site can make the difference between the life and death of seedlings, between the success and failure of a restoration project.  When we plant trees to restore forests, we work with local nurseries to ensure that the seedlings we use come from local trees whose unique genetics are adapted to the environment where they will be planted.  We also want to make sure that the seedlings come from many parents, so that the new forest will have a diverse array of genetics capable of adapting to changing conditions or new forest diseases.

As we create the forests of the future, we need to look to the past for guidance.  Tomorrow’s forests will not be the same as yesterday’s;  changes in climate, land use and other disturbances will see to that.  But knowing exactly what was lost will help us try to put it right.

Check out Sam Lawson’s last blog to learn more about how we find and plant the “right” redwood seeds to create a thriving future forest.

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About the author

Richard joined the League’s staff in 2012 as the Conservation Science Manager and now serves as Director of Restoration. He brings nearly a decade of experience in forest management and restoration.

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