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Wood Thieves Prompt Closure of Road in Redwood National and State Parks

Disturbing evidence of an 8x10-foot section of poached burl-wood. | Photo: Courtesy NPS

Here's another story to file under "why we can't have nice things": the California Department of Parks and Recreation has closed night-time access to a popular road through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park because someone's been mutilating ancient redwood trees under cover of darkness.

As of March 1, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in Humboldt County is closed to the public between sunset and sunrise every day, as a result of illegal poaching of redwood burl wood from trees inside the park. Burls, a kind of vegetative tumor usually found on older redwood trees, are much-prized for wood-carving and furniture due to their colorful, swirling grain.

The nine-mile Parkway, a popular two-lane scenic thoroughfare that runs through a mix of old-growth and second-growth redwoods, has been the scene of increased illegal cutting of burlwood from both fallen and standing ancient redwoods, according to officials.

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The State Parks and the National Park Service will also be stepping up patrols in the area to deter would-be tree mutilators. The two agencies jointly manage Prairie Creek along with Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Jedediah Smith Redwoods state parks and Redwood National Park.

Named for former National Park Service director Newton Drury, the Scenic Parkway was completed in 1993, and is considered a major attraction in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It's a popular spot for visitors hoping to get a glimpse of the area's Roosevelt elk, and the area's cold streams are also home to the unusual amphibian species the tailed frog.

Roosevelt elk along the Newton B. Drury Parkway | Photo: Jason Bechtel/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Since the vast majority of California's ancient redwoods have been cut down in the last century, trees with burls large enough to use for commercial products are increasingly restricted to protected areas such as parks. According to the photo provided by the National Park Service, burl poachers can do a staggering amount of damage to the trees they target.

The State Parks Department notes that aside from construction and furniture uses, some of the demand for burlwood comes from the souvenir industry. This raises the possibility that tourists seeking a physical reminder of their trip to the redwoods might actually be contributing to the harm being done to the very trees they wanted to remember. If you plan to visit the redwood parks, you might consider selecting another kind of souvenir.

The night-time closure of the Parkway is in effect until further notice. State Parks notes that the Elk Prairie Campground off the Parkway's southern end is still open to the public, and can be reached 24/7 via exit 753 off Highway 101.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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