What Happens When a Massive Redwood Tree Falls

With winter storms buffeting the Bay Area, about 10 to 12 towering coast redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument have toppled during the last two months, according to trail crew members in the Golden Gate National Parks.

“We’ve been responding to fallen trees a couple times per week, I’d say,” says Corbett Robinson, a trails maintenance supervisor with the National Park Service (NPS). “That’s been going on all winter—or at least when the heavy rains started.”

Wind, soil saturation and destabilization, the rerouting of Redwood Creek (which runs through Muir Woods), and fire are all suspects when trees topple in the national monument.

Some Douglas firs and California bay laurels certainly have succumbed to the stormy winter weather. But what happens when a coast redwood—the tallest living thing on the planet—comes crashing down?

“There’s often the distinct sound of cracking and crashing—and a redwood takes a long time to fall because the canyon is narrow,” says Mia Monroe, community liaison in Marin County for NPS. “If a tree falls, other trees catch it, and sometimes it breaks off other branches, and sometimes it skidders and scratches its way down the bark of other trees—and sometimes it takes other trees down. So it’s really a redwood symphony out there of creaks and groans, cracks and sharp thuds, and it’s very, very dramatic.”

After more than 35 years on the job, this awesome scene doesn’t unnerve Monroe. In fact, she considers it a privilege to experience a storm in the famous redwood grove.

“I can see why one of John Muir’s goals was to be in a forest during a winter storm, to hear the trees not only sway and creak, but also [to witness] branches and trees falling,” Monroe explains.

You can get a nine-second glimpse at the epic thuds a falling redwood makes on NPS’ website.


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