Poachers Take Chunks from California Redwoods, Put Majestic Trees At Risk

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

This outrages me so much.  Poachers are going into Redwoods National Park and other state parks late at night and chopping off the huge burls that are on the base of huge redwood trees.  Apparently, the burls are worth a lot of money and are used to make bowls and furniture.   I grew up near the redwoods in California, and remember seeing burl products in people’s homes and sold at roadside shops and even in state park gift shops, but I never saw live redwoods with their burls cut off in parks.

Here is an intact redwood burl at the base of a tree. Photo from: http://experimentwithnature.com/10-profiles/material-spotlight-redwood-burl/

Here is a picture of a coffee table made from a redwood burl that sold for $1250.  Photo from: http://www.artisanburlwood.com/image2.php?image=images/instock/tables/091008rwcoff6228.jpg&item=Redwood%20Burl%20Table%20-SOLD!&finish=Satin%20&price=1,250%20-SOLD!&dimx=Height:%2018&dimy=Length:%2062&dimz=Width:%2028

If you google “redwood burl” you will find many links and images to companies selling burlwood products. They range from guitars, knife handles, bed headboards and even glasses frames.  Burls are prized for their swirling patterns.

A redwood tree’s primary way of reproducing is through a burl resprouting, although they produce seeds in small cones as well.  Removal of the burls isn’t just reducing redwood reproduction, however.  The removal of the bark is allowing the inner wood to be exposed to disease and pests, and gets rid of its fire-resistance (redwood bark is naturally fire-resistant and allowed the trees to survive natural wildfires).  Removal of burls has already been killing some trees.

Burls can be legally harvested from private land, and are first harvested from fallen trees.  However, a park spokesperson said, “We are often asked, ‘What is the price of a burl? A burl is priceless if it comes from a national park that is an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

Redwoods National Park is closing down some of their roads after sunset to try to halt the poaching.

A CNN article with a picture of a tree that had its burl poached:
http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/06/us/california-redwoods-poaching/index.html

A National Geographic article with more about burl use and redwood biology:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140306-redwood-poachers-burl-wood-national-park-crime/

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.