Redwood National and State Parks are easy on environment

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


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 andndash; 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: