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Wanted: Reward offered for arrest of burl poachers in Redwoods

Environmentalists are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of burl poachers stealing the prized patterned old-growth wood from California’s Redwoods.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Redwood Parks Association and Save the Redwoods League announced the reward.

Burls are large natural protrusions on the trees. They can weigh hundreds of pounds and bring thousands of dollars. They are most prolific on the oldest trees, and they play a critical role in the regeneration of the redwoods on the Pacific coast. Removing the burls exposes the heart of the tree to further damage and threatens wildlife.

California authorities have in the past year reported a spike in poaching in an already threatened region — due to commercial logging, less than 5 percent of California’s original old-growth forest remains.

“California’s ancient redwoods really are some of the world’s greatest treasures,” said Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope this reward will encourage people to come forward and help us bring an end to this appalling destruction so we can protect these beautiful trees for generations to come.”

Most of the old-growth redwoods in California are located in protected areas, either national or state parks.

“We are all responsible for protecting these magnificent trees and magical places,” said Sam Hodder, president and chief executive officer of Save the Redwoods League. “We will continue to work with our partners to create programs and protocols to prevent future destruction of our redwood parks and wildlife habitat.”

Coast redwoods regenerate one of two ways: from seedlings, which have a survival rate as low as 1 percent, and from burls, dormant bud material that develops in bumpy, bulbous knobs that can occur anywhere on the tree, most commonly near the ground. Redwood burls develop slowly as the tree grows, and can range from the size of a softball to several feet thick in diameter.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, when burls are cut from coast redwoods, the tree is injured in several ways:

1. Redwood bark provides a thick, insulating layer that protects the tree from insect infestation, fire and disease. By removing the bark and the cambium (the growing layer of the tree), the inner heartwood of the tree is exposed, increasing the risk of insect or fire damage and disease. The defacement of trees creates entry points for pathogens from which the tree may not recover. 

2. Since the burl is a primary tool for coast redwood reproduction, removing the burl may deny the tree its primary method of regeneration. A burl from a 2,000-year-old coast redwood can initiate growth of a new tree that can live for another 2,000 years, thus the Latin name for coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, which means “forever living.” 

3. If the cuts are extensive, as in a number of recent cases, the structural integrity of the tree can be weakened to a point where it is threatened by high winds, floods or saturated ground. In these situations the canopy of the tree can also suffer extensive dieback and reduced vigor, further stressing the tree.

Burl poaching involves the cutting, often with chainsaws, of burls from both live and dead trees, including the felling of living old-growth redwood trees to access burls higher up the stem. There has been an increase in poaching incidents in recent years, including:

The removal of a burl nearly 8 feet tall, 5 feet wide and 4 feet deep;

The removal of at least 15 burls, some as large as 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide;

The felling of a 150-foot-tall, 400-year-old tree 4 feet in diameter to reach a large burl about 50 feet above the ground;

The removal of 24 burls from five old-growth trees next to a park road.

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