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Green on green

Redwood National and State Parks are easy on environment

ABOVE: When the North Operations Center opened near Crescent City, it consolidated operations. BELOW: Ranger Nate St. Amand tries out one of the new patrol bikes. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
ABOVE: When the North Operations Center opened near Crescent City, it consolidated operations. BELOW: Ranger Nate St. Amand tries out one of the new patrol bikes. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
The “Hey Ranger” column written by employees of the Redwood National and State Parks is published monthly. Today’s column is by Keith Bensen, fish and wildlife biologist and Green Committee chairman for the parks.

Redwood National and State Parks are world famous for being home to the largest remaining area of lush, verdant, old-growth redwood forest.

If you were to choose colors best describing the parks’ landscape, green would definitely top the list.

But that isn’t the only way that the parks are green. Parks staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors have all been working hard over the past decade to make the operation of the parks environmentally sustainable or “green.”

Both the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service have numerous recent policies mandating green park operations. Your redwood parks have taken this to heart and have applied the sustainable management concept to a wide variety of areas.

Everything that goes on in the parks nowadays has had some sort of review about whether it can be bought locally, accomplished using non-toxic products, use less energy or an alternative energy source, operate more efficiently, reduce waste, be reused for something else, or be recycled.

An added advantage of switching to a green operation is that sustainable options most often result in significant cost savings — an important benefit everyone appreciates!

For example, the new North Operations Center near Crescent City consolidates both state and national park maintenance work groups into one highly sustainable building. The center has a large photovoltaic array that generates up to a third of the building’s power, extensive sky lighting to reduce the use of electric lights during the day, high-efficiency heating, water and sewer systems, and locally-sourced, non-toxic, long-lasting construction materials.

Formerly, maintenance groups were scattered across the parks in dozens of older, highly energy inefficient buildings that cost significantly more to operate and maintain, and necessitated more driving time to reach.

The new center facilitates efficient equipment sharing and teamwork for greater project efficiency by having all maintenance staff in one location. Even removing the former maintenance work sites was accomplished using the sustainable management method.

The former National Park Service maintenance yard at Requa was in a former Cold War-era Air Force radar base located on a hill that was very geologically unstable, necessitating complete dismantling of the failing buildings. That deconstruction project was accomplished in cooperation with the Yurok Tribe and resulted in an amazing 85 percent of the material being recycled or reused. Over 9,000 tons of waste was diverted from area landfills.

Another very productive sustainable operations partnership is with the Shatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University. The Schatz lab is renowned for its practical research of alternative and efficient energy systems.

The cooperative program provides real world work experience for graduate environmental engineering students by involving them in park energy projects. Shatz professors and graduate students designed, for free, the photovoltaic system that now partially powers the parks’ headquarters in Crescent City and conducted an energy efficiency survey of the building resulting in significant operational cost savings and reduced power usage.

Other projects the graduate students have taken on include photovoltaic systems at the Wolf Creek Education Center and Gold Bluffs Beach park residence and campground, a solar hot water system at the Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick, and a cutting-edge solar hydrogen fuel cell power system at the School House Peak fire lookout.

Because of the over 50-mile-long shape of the parks, moving people and equipment around is the second largest source, behind electricity use, of Redwood’s air pollution and energy usage, making up a quarter of the parks’ carbon footprint. Making the parks’ vehicle and equipment fleet more efficient and less polluting is being tackled in a variety of ways.

The fleet has been shrunk by eight vehicles this year through careful work planning and vehicle sharing, resulting in thousands of gallons of fuel savings and over 20 tons of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

All diesel equipment now runs on 80 percent locally sourced biodiesel. Six older vehicles have been replaced with new highly-efficient hybrid vehicles.

Small, all electric utility vehicles are now used in the Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek and Elk Prairie campgrounds by staff and volunteers.  They use a fraction of the energy (and cost) of the gasoline-powered pickups formerly used, are very cheap to maintain, and are really quiet — a side benefit park visitors enjoy.

This summer, interpretive rangers for the first time will be getting around the campgrounds on bicycles, the greenest transportation of all. Finally, the parks have installed a high-definition video conferencing system at the major offices in Crescent City, Orick and Eureka, greatly reducing the need for staff to drive hundreds of miles for meetings.

Bear-proof recycling containers have been placed at all visitor use areas throughout the parks.  Thousands of tons of solid waste have been diverted from landfills through visitor use of these receptacles.

And, an innovative program was started two years ago that allows visitors to vent the remaining propane from their camp stove and lantern fuel bottles so that the steel canisters can be recycled, turning thousands of pounds of high grade steel back into useful items instead of being wasted.

Park offices use nothing but recycled paper and non-toxic cleaning supplies and utilize a local non-profit group to collect all recyclable materials. The push for sustainable purchasing even goes so far as to build in green components to as many contracts as possible.

All of these efforts and more have led to Redwood National and State Parks being designated Climate Friendly – Cool Parks, the only joint recognition by the National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The parks also recently received the 2011 Environmental Achievement Award from the Department of the Interior because of the many green programs we have established.

But, most importantly, we staff members hope that all our visitors can use some of the same ideas to make their own work places and homes more sustainable, and probably less costly.

For ideas, visit the parks’ website for links to the Climate Friendly Parks “Do Your Part!” or Cool Parks “You Can Help!” pages.  Better yet, when visiting your parks, ask any park staff or volunteer about some green ideas, examples will be all around you!

For more information on Redwood National and State Parks’ green programs, go to:



Del Norte Triplicate:

312 H Street
P.O. Box 277
Crescent City, CA 95531

(707) 464-2141

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