Spurred By Addiction, Burl Poaching Threatens Redwood Forests

Spurred By Addiction, Burl Poaching Threatens Redwood Forests

By John Lavitt 04/08/14

Addicts are removing knobby growths from the base of ancient redwoods to sell the prized grains that are made into sought-after decorative crafts.

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According to local rangers in Northern California, a combination of rampant drug addiction and unemployment is fueling burl poaching, a destructive and prevalent practice that threatens giant redwoods.

Burl poachers cut off the knobby growths from the base of ancient redwood trees that are later made into decorative crafts like coffee tables and wall clocks. The addicts that are poaching are not making actual pieces, but selling the poached burls to craftsmen at discount rates.

Because of tight regulations, the rarity of burl, and the low prices being offered, respectable craftsmen have been increasingly tempted to buy from poachers. Quality burls with a lacey grain full of eyes sell unseasoned for $2 to $3 a pound.

"When I interview suspects (and ask them why)… they say: their addiction to drugs and they can’t find jobs,” said national park Ranger Laura Denny. Poachers had been stalking the remote reaches of the park with chain saws and ATVs for decades. In recent times, however, the size and frequency of thefts have been on the rise.

Burl poaching has become so prevalent that Rangers in Redwood National and State Parks have closed the popular Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway at night. There has been no way for the rangers to effectively patrol 133,000 acres of the park, making arrests rare. The closing of the parkway was a last ditch attempt to deter the poachers.

Park District Interpretation Supervisor Jeff Denny, husband of Laura Denny, explained the extent of the damage. “Originally there were 2 million acres of old growth forest that spanned the coast of Northern California…95 percent of that original forest has been cut. The only remaining old growth forest in existence now is almost entirely within the Redwood national park and the state parks.”

A redwood can survive the poaching, but the legacy of the 1,000 years old tree becomes threatened. The burl is the part of the tree where a redwood sprouts a clone before dying. The possibility of such sprouting is destroyed by the poaching, preventing this age-old natural method of redwood propagation.