Burl poaching has forced California state officials to shut down parts of the park and stretches of road leading to it in order to help protect the massive, ancient trees
May 8, 2014

Thousand Year Old California Redwoods Targeted By Burl Poachers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

California redwood trees, some of which are more than 1,000 years old, are being damaged by poachers who use their wood to make and sell pieces of furniture, bowls and other souvenirs, various media outlets are reporting.

According to CNN’s Jack Hannah, the people responsible for the damage are sneaking into Redwood National and State Parks at night and cutting away large chunks from the base of the trees, which are the largest in the world.

Their target is the burl, a lumpy feature from the base that can be crafted into items and sold for thousands of dollars, he added. The practice is known as burl poaching, and it has forced state officials to shut down parts of the park and stretches of road leading to it in order to help protect the massive, ancient trees.

“We've seen a peaked increase (of theft and damage). Unfortunately I feel that it's more than we can keep track of,” Candace Tinkler, Chief of Interpretation and Education for Redwood National and State Parks, told Hannah on Tuesday. She compared the incidents to elephant tusk poaching, and went on to say that there is “a black market for this stuff, and it goes well beyond California borders.”

Laura Denny, a ranger at the park, told the Associated Press (AP) that many of the individuals she has interviewed have said they turned to burl poaching because they are unemployed, unable to find work, and addicted to drugs. However, since the burl is the part of the tree where it sprouts a clone before it dies off, cutting it away eliminates the redwood’s ability to propagate, the wire service added.

Denny recalled pursuing a group of burl poachers who had been targeting a massive redwood south of the Klamath River mount last month. Their activities left a scar measuring 8 feet by 10 feet in the tree, and over the course of several weeks, they cut the burl into 100-pound slabs that they transported using ATVs.

Eventually, the slabs were found in the yard of a burl dealer, and their wood was matched to fragments left behind at the tree. Denny told the AP that she seized the slabs, and that the dealer had paid $1,600 for eight slabs. He planned to sell them for $700 each, for a total of $5,600.

In February, another episode involved 21 burls that had been cut from four trees in the northernmost region of the park, according to Patricia Leigh Brown of the New York Times. In total, there had been 18 reported incidents of burl poaching as of April 8, resulting in the nighttime closure of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, she added.

“The burl wood, with its complex, swirling patterns, is the result of bud tissue that has not sprouted; the park describes it as ‘a storage compartment for the genetic code of the parent tree,’” explained Brown. “Although scientists are not entirely sure how burls are formed or why, they do consider them to be marvels of biodiversity: Giant burls perched like penthouses above the canopy are habitats for mollusks, salamanders and other creatures.”