FRESNO - Young Sequoias growing on logged-over land in Central California and the North Coast, probably do not have the environmental niche they will need to grow to the economic potential that lumber men assume. The primordial Sequoia was under attack in 19th Century logging ventures that created such California towns as Sanger, Fresno, and Redwood City.
Logging of the Sequoia in the State led to federal protection and eventually to the creation of the Yosemite and Sequoia National parks in Fresno County in the late 1800's.
Now, the fight for the Californioa Sequoia begins anew.Today, as in the early days of California, the fight is one to save the Sequoias redwood forests from total destruction. Many of the younger groves are still in private ownership.
Privately owned Sequoia forests make up about 99% of 620,000 acres of industrial Sequoia redwood land available for logging.
The fight is over only one percent, the 6,000 acres of ancient trees - 500 to 2,000-year-old giants - primarily owned by Pacific Lumber Co. At the heart of the battle is the Headwaters Forest, a 3,000 acre plot of undisturbed, old-growth redwoods located about 15 miles inland from Eureka.
The irreplaceable ecological value of the evolved and complex old growth Sequoia forests is pitched against their present economic value of more than $100,000 for each and every mature Sequoia tree. Timber buyers pay that kind of cash money for high-grade Sequoia lumber and wood products. Only the rare teak wood frorm the Orient's ancient tropical rain forests bring as much economic value in the market.
Arguments for harvesting Sequoia trees assumes that the Sequoias will replace themsleves, through the process of plant succession, someday. That theory has yet to be scientifically proven. These old growth Sequoia forests, however, represent an ecological momet in time which may not be reproduced agains in many thousands of years.
The old growth provides important habitat for wildlife, say scientists. In its forests, downed logs, snags or broken top trunks, beds of moss and lichen, towering canopies of branches and leaves, and cool streams provide homes for martens, fishers, coho salmon, marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl.
And there is more subtle value, they say. Fungi help the trees absorb nutrients and resist insects. Decayed trunks build soil or hold water like a sponge. The tall trees trap and hold moisture. Branches and needles catch dust and dirt, thus cleansing the air. Plant photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. Roots bind soil against erosion.
"We have absolutely no assurance that we can regrow old growth in any less time that it took to produce it originally, 300 or 400 years, said David Perry, professor of ecosystems studies at Oregon State University.
Pacific Lumber maintains that the 1,000-year-old trees should be logged and that they offer no greater wildlife benefit than the younger forests. They also bring a better price.
"The big logs have a finer grain" said Art Harwood, president of Harwood Products in Branscomb. "They have more 10 to 20 growth rings per inch compared to three to six rings in a
It is a fact that Sequoia trees have economic value. Sequoia wood is so strong and naturally resistant to moisture and insects. Yet, those qualities can be artifificially applied to inferiror timber when treated with preservatives. The clear grain of the Sequoia, however, cannot be artifically produced.
So, the lumber mill pays $1,200 per 1,000 board feet for an old growth compared to $700 for a younger tree. An average old growth Sequoia log is twice the diameter of a younger
tree and has the economic value of four times as much.
A 5-foot diameter 40-foot log produces 6,760 board feet. A 10-foot diameter 40-foot log produces 27,800 board feet. Sequoia redwood is competitively priced with other woods. This is the result of using young Sequoia redwood trees.
Consumer demand for Sequoia redwood is strong because it holds up so very well under weather in siding, decking, hot-tubs, and fencing. It has natural resistance to decay and insects, and is less apt to warp and crack. Those characteristics lead to its long-lasting beauty. Sequoia redwood is particularly valaues above all other wood because it is beautiful.
Agricultural economists say that Sequoia redwood trees should be left standing,particularly because of their economic value and the danger of the complete depletion of this resource within the next 10 years. Foresters have no idea whether we can produce it again.