Greg King: History of Redwoods

Greg King, an activist who sought to protect the old-growth redwoods of the Headwaters Forest from clearcutting by Maxxam, reads from his forthcoming book 'The Ghost Forest.'

by Jackie Pascoe

March 5, 2014—Before timber companies started logging in the 19th century, 2 million acres of redwoods filled a 30-mile-wide coastal strip down the California coast to Big Sur. Clear-cutting their way through this last remnant of the primeval global forest, timber barons assured the public that it would take a thousand years to make a dent in such a vast resource, but they were being disingenuous even back then. Only about 5 percent of the original old-growth forest remains today.

The first known redwood trees grew 200 million years ago, in the days when dinosaurs were just gathering steam. Ten million years ago, redwood forests spread over much of the warm and humid northern hemisphere. Then the earth headed into the last ice age, the climate became drier and cooler, and redwood forests shrank to the confines of our temperate, foggy coast.

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It was Greg King who in 1987 discovered the last unprotected ancient redwood groves and named them. Located in Humboldt County, the Headwaters Forest became iconic. King led the struggle against Maxxam, the Fortune 500 company that was bent on liquidating these last ancient trees, along with large swaths of additional forest.

Maxxam had made a successful hostile takeover bid of Pacific Lumber, which until then had been a responsible timber company. Early on in Greg’s investigations of Pacific Lumber's accelerated liquidation of the Headwater Forest, he discovered that Maxxam and government regulators themselves were routinely interpreting court edicts that required greater adherence to environmental laws by simply modifying their language to achieve their own ends.

By 1999, the activists had prevailed, though many felt that the Clinton administration should have traded Maxxam’s Savings and Loans debt for the Headwaters forest. Instead federal and state funds purchased the forest for $480 million.

Greg King is on a speaking tour in support of his book-in-progress, The Ghost Forest. His talk delves into the natural history of the redwood forest, illustrated by his own beautiful and widely-published photos of redwoods. His historical photos are fascinating, too, showing the loggers of the 19th century as well as late 20th-century logging protesters. His talk also chronicles the redwood’s collision with Western humanity and discusses key elements of state, federal and corporate policy with regard to regulations and their practical application—or lack thereof.

Greg King’s ancestors came to the forests of Sonoma County in 1876, bought up timberland, and started logging. The King Range Mountains are named after the first to arrive. They also built one of the largest redwood mills of the day, the King-Starret Mill in Monte Rio, located along the Russian River. Greg King himself was raised not far from Monte Rio, but as is evident, he has not followed in his ancestors’ footprints.

Today Greg is executive director of Siskiyou Land Conservancy, a non-profit he founded in 2004 to protect wild lands (624 acres so far), advocate for healthy fisheries, host public events, and disseminate environmental news.

What: Talk by Greg King: The History of the Redwood Ecosystem and the Struggle to Save It
When: March 10 at 7:30 (with Keying Club at 5 pm. “Mystery plant” ID at 7 pm.)
Where: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Horticulture Building (1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064)
More Details:
Sponsored by: the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County chapter.

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