Photograph by Michael Christopher Brown
Mike Fay trekked through the redwood forests of North America for 11 months. His transect documents the status of the redwoods today. Fay, a conservationist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence spoke to National Geographic Kids recently about one of his favorite redwood areas called the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in Crescent City, California, near the California-Oregon border.
NGKids: What do you like about this park?
Fay: It is the highest biomass per acre of any forest on Earth. The amount of biomass on the ground is pretty much equal to what it is in the trees. The trees never rot—there is a labyrinth of wood that has been stacking up on the forest floor for thousands and thousands of years. Then you have these huge columns, to walk a mile in that forest takes you all day. It’s like a wonderland back there, like Alice in Wonderland—it really is. If I had to pick one spot in the redwoods forest on Earth, Jed Smith Park is an amazing forest. It’s a small patch. The cool thing about redwoods is that they remain healthy compared to most forests in North America that have been heavily impacted by human use and by global impacts.
NGKids: What can kids do to help the redwoods and forests in general?
Fay: Kids…should get outside and start thinking about natural resource management and if you look at the redwoods, it’s a perfect place to start thinking about it because 95% was taken out and yet we see humanity shifting there to repairing the damage that was done, and rebuilding the forest and making it more productive for humanity at the same time. That is the key. We need to replenish the natural resource capital that we have lost rather than to continue to liquidate it. If we do that then there is hope.
- The tallest known redwood tree stands at 379.1 feet, higher than London’s Big Ben Tower.
- In 1850 there were nearly 2 million acres of ancient coast redwood forests in California. Today less than 5 percent of those old-growth forests remain.
- As they get older, redwoods produce more wood, and better wood. Some redwoods grow to be at least 2,000 years old.
- Redwoods depend on fog for more than 30 percent of their water needs by absorbing it directly into their leaves and taking in the condensed fog that drips down to their roots.
- Redwood forests are the best of all forests at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking away the carbon in their wood.
- Redwoods are rich in polyphenols, so bugs and decay-causing fungi don’t like them. And since there is not a lot of resin in their stringy, thick bark, the larger trees are resistant to fire. These properties have helped fuel redwood longevity; some of the trees have been burned several times by wildfires but are still alive and growing.