Speed Reads

Breaking the Law

Poachers are destroying the California redwoods for contraband coffee tables

Twitter/Save the Redwoods

Rangers at the Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California are so concerned about poaching of the ancient trees that they are restricting access to part of the scenic highway that runs through the (legally) protected old growth giant redwoods. The poachers, who rangers say appear to be largely unemployed and/or drug addicts, don't cut down the entire tree but just carve out the burls, which can fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here's what a redwood burl looks like:

(CC by: Derek Wolfgram)

And here's what a giant redwood looks like with its burl poached:

The burl poaching doesn't kill the trees, some of which have already survived 2,000 years, but it does weaken their defenses so that disease or fire could destroy them. Cruelest of all, the burl is the redwood's primary method of propagation: The burl sprouts a clone of its tree, giving it a type of immortality. This is where the tree got its formal Latin name, Sequoia simper vierens (forever-living sequoia), park interpretation supervisor Jeff Denny tells The Associated Press.

"Originally there were 2 million acres of old growth forest that spanned the coast of Northern California from Oregon to Monterey," Denny says. "Over the past 150 years, 95 percent of that original forest has been cut." Now the remaining 5 percent is threatened by people with chainsaws and all-terrain vehicles. And for what? Burls have beautiful patterns that make for great surfaces on which to put your cup of coffee (or coffee table book) or pint of beer.