Hiking to 44 Grove in Redwood National Park – Redwoods Are Fine but Tan Oaks are Toast

1      Hike to 44 Grove

A 1963 survey of redwoods along Redwood Creek in what would become Redwood National Park five years later determined a tall redwood growing on a flat along Redwood Creek across from 44 Creek outflow was the second tallest tree in the area and a sign was erected at its base.  The tree and sign still exist today, but getting there involves a very steep climb down from the Redwood Creek trail in the 44 creek area followed by a creek crossing or alternatively a series of five creek crossings hiking north from Tall Trees Grove.  In either instance the creek can only be safely crossed when the flow rate is low in mid to late summer.   A few weeks ago I hiked to this flat, called 44 Grove, from Tall Trees Grove.  It was a pleasant hike, the stream crossings were not difficult, only a little over knee high, and the cobbles in the gravel bar got smaller as we headed away from Tall Trees Grove, making the gravel bar walking fairly easy.  It took about 25 minutes to do the one mile hike downstream from Tall Trees Grove to 44 Grove.

2      44 Grove and Harry Cole Redwood

Forty-four Grove is revealed in a spectacular fashion as a bend in the creek is followed.  This grove includes the Harry Cole tree, which was 367 feet tall in 1964 (so the sign says) and identified as the second tallest tree in the area (so the same sign says).  This tree remains about 367 feet tall today, and maybe a little taller based on the measuring I did with a rangefinder.  It has a healthy looking top.

Here are pictures of 44 Grove from the south, Harry Cole is the second tree in from the creek.  Then the remaining pictures show the still standing sign stating “Second Tallest Redwood 367.4 Feet 1964” as well as a couple additional photos of Harry Cole.  There is a huckleberry bush growing on the sign with ripe huckleberries.

44 Grove from south. Harry Cole is second tree in from creek and is 367 feet tall. There are only 15 or so redwoods taller. Note browned out tan oaks bottom right.
Hard to read but sign says “Second Tallest Tree – 367.4 Feet”. Sign erected in 1964. Note huckleberry bush on post.
Harry Cole redwood south side of trunk. DBH is 16 feet.
View of Harry Cole redwood upper trunk and crown.

3      Sudden Oak Death Among Tan Oaks in 44 Creek Area

It was sad to see so many brown dried out dead or dying tan oaks in the 44 Creek area.  There is an interesting Master degree thesis done by a Humboldt State student in 2017 on mitigation and propagation of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in Redwood Creek.  Apparently the area between Bond and 44 Creek and the area around Bridge creek evidenced significant SOD among tan oaks starting a few years ago and mitigation treatments including cutting, establishing a buffer, and wood removal occurred in 2014 and 2015.  This SOD mitigation involved tan oaks and bay laurels (which carry SOD).  The redwoods and other tree species were left alone.  SOD does not affect redwoods.

Then after all this work the SOD still spread downstream to the Emerald Creek area from Bridge creek and also downstream past Bond Creek from 44 Creek.  There are affected tan oaks even north of Elam Creek. Apparently the SOD spores were able to move as much as 1.5 km in a short time due to two causes.  First, the pineapple express late winter storms with strong south winds spread the spores.  Second, the annual rise in the level of Redwood Creek due to winter rains allows the water to flow against low tan oak branches along the creek, and the spores are trapped in branch cavities.

What to do ….. sure it is being debated.  The thesis mentions giant buffers could be cut around the affected areas, 300 meters in width, where non affected tan oaks and bay laurel are removed.  But as also mentioned so much of Redwood Creek would be involved and the work only postpones the inevitable.  It may be the tan oaks will be left to their fate, and they will brown and die along Redwood Creek, all of them.  The same may happen along the feeder creeks, more slowly.

This die off will provide more fuel and any wildfires will burn hotter.  It is thought the older redwoods would tolerate a hot fire without issue but redwoods under two feet in diameter could be killed by such a fire.

Here are some pictures of dying tan oaks seen along Redwood Creek.  If you go to Google Maps “satellite view” you will see a lot of brown in the 44 / Bond and Emerald/Bridge creek areas, those are the dying tan oaks.  Pretty sad.

Redwood Creek just north of Tall Trees Grove. Note brown tan oaks on right bank.
Redwood Creek a little south of 44 creek outflow. Note very unhealthy large tan oak.
North side of Harry Cole redwood. Note SOD affected tan oak to left.

Thanks for reading.

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