DOINews: USFWS: Poaching the Titans

Last edited 09/05/2019

Have you heard about the recent poaching crisis affecting California redwoods in the United States? Read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' blog, below, to learn how poachers are threatening these incredible trees and the National Park Service release about a recent arrest made in a burl poaching case.

A redwood stand. Photo by Justin Brown/Creative Commons

In northern California, there exists a collection of trees referred to as the Grove of Titans. Within it are some of the largest redwood trees in the world, trees so large they have earned monikers like the Lost Monarch and Del Norte Titan.

Located within the Redwood National and State Parks, these trees draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year wishing to experience their magnificence first hand. Unfortunately, these same trees are now attracting another type of visitor – illegal loggers.

Sneaking into the park with chainsaws, often after nightfall, these poachers are looking to cash in on one of our nation's treasures. They are harvesting a very specific part of the tree called the burl that often grows at the base of the tree. The burl is prized among woodworkers because of its distinctive swirled wood grain, and is used in furniture, ornamental pieces and small knick-knacks.

While burls can be purchased legally from private forests, demand is often far greater than supply. Fetching 2 to 3 dollars per pound, larger burls can sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. At one point, poachers were removing only the burls of fallen redwoods. However, their supply of downed trees soon ran out, and they turned to the mighty redwoods still standing. The scale of poaching has increased rapidly, and one tree may be hit multiple times. In fact, some poachers have resorted to cutting down a tree to reach burls higher up the trunk, ending its life after hundreds or even thousands of years.

When poachers remove a burl, they weaken the tree aand expose it to harmful insects and disease. The killing or weakening of these trees also has an impact on the surrounding ecosystem, affecting unique habitat and threatened wildlife. Besides the environmental impact, burl poaching also represents the destruction of one of our country's natural legacies. In addition to being some of the largest trees in the world, California's redwoods are also some of the oldest, with some trees living thousands of years.

The sheer size of Redwood National and State Parks makes effective monitoring and enforcement a challenge. In an effort to deter poachers, the National Park Service announced they would close Newton B. Drury Parkway, which runs through the parks, at night.

Several stories, including ones in The New York Times and National Geographic, have been published recently on the surge in redwood poaching occurring at the parks. These stories highlight an important point that many Americans are unaware of – illegal wildlife trade is not confined to animal species, and illegal logging occurs right here in the United States, threatening the integrity of important ecosystems for years to come.

By: Claire Hood, USFWS

May 28, 2014

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