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Over a Century of Conservation at Muir Woods National Monument

This episode of Treehuggers International originally aired on June 5, 2011, on KBZT FM 94/9. Thanks to Lindsay Bartsh at the National Parks Conservation Association, and Muir Woods site supervisor Mia Monroe for their help making this program possible. Special thanks to Paul Lancour at KQED in San Francisco for his kind assistance.

Treehuggers International is pleased to welcome National Park Service Ranger Lou Sian to talk about the magnificence of the coastal Redwood forest ecosystem, and the effort a century ago to save a surviving old-growth Redwood forest minutes away from the growing metropolis of San Francisco, resulting in Muir Woods National Monument.

Sprouting from a seed no bigger than a tomato, Redwoods have a special place in California legend, lore and conservation culture. Along with being the tallest trees in the world, Redwoods are also some of the world’s oldest and most rot-resistant trees, and by virtue of their bark, size, and typical surrounding ecosystem, Redwoods are amazingly fire-resistant. Other than humans, or the occasional well-placed windstorm, Redwoods have no natural enemies, and can thrive for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Growing in groves of five or six in a small, thin coastal band from Big Sur north to the southernmost coastal portion of Oregon near Brookings, Redwoods once covered some two million acres of the Northern California coastline. But due to over-logging, destructive resource extraction, resultant erosion, and a lack of understanding about the Redwood forest ecosystem, those once great stands were denuded to the few mature stands which survive today.

While most surviving old-growth Redwood groves have since been preserved in various California State Parks and National Park Service units (most notably Redwood National Park in Del Norte County), some old-growth Redwood groves do survive today on private timberland, and calls for their preservation occasionally percolate to the surface.

One of the most famous surviving stands of old-growth Redwoods in the San Francisco Bay Area is Muir Woods, which lies in a canyon along the Pacific coast in southwestern Marin County, and became one of the first National Park Service units in what is now the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Like classic old-growth Redwood forests, it relies upon fog for regular moisture, and this abundance of fog results in a locally wet environment which ensures abundant plant growth similar to that seen in the Pacific Northwest.

Named for the great naturalist, Yosemite advocate and author, and Sierra Club founder John Muir, Muir Woods was set aside as a National Monument in 1908 in Muir’s honor by his friend and fellow conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt did so, in part, at the urging of Marin County businessman and future congressman William Kent, after a Sausalito water company announced plans to dam the canyon.

In its preservation, Muir Woods became the first National Monument to be created from land donated by a private individual, rather than land already in the federal government inventory.

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Muir Woods National Monument photos © 2011 Tommy Hough, all rights reserved.