Jessica A. Knoblauch
All along California's coast lie remnants of what was once the greatest forest on earth. Over the past 100 million years, sequoia sempervirens—a.k.a. coastal redwoods—have survived multiple mass extinctions and changing climates, and lived among numerous creatures, from dragonflies and red squirrels to armored dinosaurs.
In May of 2013, I, along with approximately 200 other bicyclists, embarked on a 5-day, 320-mile journey along Northern California's epic coastline and among these ancient trees. Today, despite many attempts to turn every last redwood into a house, deck or cabin, California's aptly-named Avenue of the Giants—the largest stand of virgin redwoods in the world—still remains strong thanks to individuals and organizations like Earthjustice who truly see the forest for the trees.
As I pedaled my bike past grove after grove of these giants that first day, I realized that their survival, like the many creatures they tower above, is rooted in a battle to balance the needs of industry with the need for wild places and creatures.
Take the town of Ft. Bragg, for example, which we cycled through on day two of our journey. After climbing 1,400 feet to the top of infamous Leggett Hill—one of the highest points of the popular Pacific Coast Bike Route—we coasted down a 12-mile descent to the Pacific Ocean with trees whipping past us at 30 miles per hour. Before we had time to clear the salty sea air out of our noses, we arrived at Ft. Bragg. This historic fishing town, like many communities along the coast, depends on healthy returns of salmon populations to feed California's multibillion dollar fishing industry. For two decades, Earthjustice has fought to protect salmon—and the hard-working families and businesses that depend on them—from insatiable industrial farms in the San Joaquin Valley.
Another battleground is found along California's Russian River, a formerly renowned river damaged by years of destructive gravel mining that clouds the water and threatens fish species like salmon and steelhead. On days three and four, as we pedaled through logging and fishing towns as well as the expansive vineyards of wine country, the Russian River snaked alongside us.
The river is finally on the road to recovery thanks to Earthjustice litigation that successfully pushed to reduce gravel mining on the river.
On day five, we clipped into our bike pedals once last time. As I pointed my well-worn handlebars south, just 42 miles to San Francisco, our final destination, I thought about how California's robust environmental history is a lot like its plentiful rolling hills. Known as "rollers" among the cycling crowd, these deceptively short hills may only take a few minutes to climb but often come at you one right after the other, quickly leaving you short of breath—a lot like how environmental issues often seem to come one right after the other. The solution? Keep pedaling or risk sliding downhill.
First published in the Fall 2013 issue of the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.