Northern California’s National and State Parks contain the last remnants of the twenty million year old Coastal Redwoods, the tallest forest ecosystem in the world. Reduced to four percent of its original two million acre sprawl in 1850, preservation efforts to maintain the ancient ecology bear scars of heavy deforestation of the late 1800s.
Originally inhabited by Native Americans, the area attracted many lumbermen turned gold miners when a minor gold rush brought them to the region. Failing in efforts their efforts, they began harvesting the giant trees for booming development in San Francisco and the West Coast. After many decades of unobstructed clear-cut logging, serious efforts toward conservation began by the Save-the-Redwoods League, founded in 1918. Redwood National Park was created in 1968 when 90% of the original redwood trees had been logged. Containing the tallest tree on earth (379 feet), a few live beyond the average 500-700 year lifespan to 2,000 years, making them some of longest-living organisms on earth.
The forest and coastal ecosystem preserves a number of endangered animal species, including the Brown Pelican, Tidewater Goby, Bald Eagle, Chinook Salmon, Northern Spotted Owl, and Steller’s Sea Lion. In recognition of the rare ecosystem and cultural history found in the parks, the United Nations designated them a World Heritage Site in 1980 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983. The modern tourist industry and pollution threaten the ecology, extending through the watershed to the Pacific coastline. Extensive drought, oceanic dead zones, and radioactive contamination and tsunami debris from the 2011 Japanese Fukushima earthquake—notably measured in kelp and tuna populations—threaten the future of one of earth’s rarest ecosystems.