The Ghost Forest

Racists, Radicals, and Real Estate in the California Redwoods


By Greg King

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The definitive story of the California redwoods, their discovery and their exploitation, as told by an activist who fought to protect their existence against those determined to cut them down.

Every year millions of tourists from around the world visit California’s famous redwoods. Yet few who strain their necks to glimpse the tops of the world’s tallest trees understand how unlikely it is that these last isolated groves of giant trees still stand at all. In this gripping historical memoir, journalist and famed redwood activist Greg King examines how investors and a growing U.S. economy drove the timber industry to cut down all but 4 percent of the original two-million-acre redwood ecosystem. King first examined redwood logging in the 1980s—as an award-winning reporter. What he found in the woods convinced him to leap the line of neutrality and become an activist dedicated to saving the very last ancient redwood groves remaining in private hands. 

The land grab began in 1849, when a “green gold rush” of migrants came to exploit the legendary redwoods that grew along the Russian River. Several generations later, in 1987, Greg King discovered and named Headwaters Forest—at 3,000 acres the largest ancient redwood habitat remaining outside of parks—and he led the movement to save this grove. After a decade of one of the longest, most dramatic, and violent environmental campaigns in US history, in 1999 the state and federal governments protected Headwaters Forest. 

The Ghost Forest explores a central question, an overhanging mystery: What was it like, this botanical Elysium that grew only along the Northern California coast, a forest so spectacular—but also uniquely valuable as a cornerstone of American economic growth—that in the end it would inspire life-and-death struggles? Few but loggers and surveyors ever saw such magnificent trees, ancient sentinels that, like ghosts, have informed King’s understanding of the world. On a lifelong journey, King finds himself through the generations, and through the trees.

A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read Title


Part One


This long connection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him. It is not love, but instinct.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wilderness begins in your own backyard.

—Edgar Wayburn


For my fifth birthday we would journey to the kingdom of giant stumps. They stood just down the hill, and downriver from us, about a half mile away at the Clar Ranch, in my hometown of Guerneville. Why my parents chose the Clar Ranch for this particular birthday, on June 19, 1966, is a detail lost to time. We weren’t particularly close to the Clars, though our families had been friends and acquaintances since 1877, when Ivon Clar landed in western Sonoma County from Santa Barbara, four years after my ancestors arrived from Canada. I do remember being excited to see the stumps.

In 1966 my birthday fell on Father’s Day, so we celebrated both. My mom, Jessie, wore light pants and a floral blouse. She spun her ink-black hair into the beehive fashion of the day, then darted across our angular ranch house, tending to my little sister, Laura, not yet two years old, while gathering games and food. Mom stuffed party favors into paper bags she’d colored and inscribed with the names of each child. Anna, my older sister by eighteen months, stood in the living room, hands on hips, ostensibly in charge.

My dad, Tom, stacked firewood, then stepped inside to prep for the party. Dad was only thirty-two years old, but his impeccable banker’s hair was already silver, a gift of the Irish. When Dad finished outside, he shed his “grubbies” and donned the summer uniform: white shorts, crewneck, and tennies. He popped the front trunk of our black 1960 Volkswagen Beetle, filled it with party goods, plopped Laura ignominiously into the “back of the backseat,” and zipped us down the short, steep pitch of Birkhofer Hill to low-lying Drake Road.

Like most things in Guerneville, the Clar Ranch wasn’t far away—a few hundred yards west on Drake Road to State Highway 116, then a quick jaunt southward, and we were there. Before it belonged to the Clar family, the land, like nearly every stitch of dirt along the lower Russian River, had held magnificent groves of ancient redwoods. In their grandeur the redwoods, individually and as a distinctly singular forest, had stood boldly as one of nature’s greatest displays of breadth and three-dimensionality. Before Guerneville was Guerneville, great trees had glutted the landscape like candles on an octogenarian’s cake.

Ivon Clar had purchased his ranch around 1890, after it was logged. To earn a living, he’d spent long days splitting thousands of shingles from the remaining stumps. For some reason Clar left several impressive examples of the former forest near his farmhouse. In 1966, and today, these edifices remained solid. To a five-year-old the stumps were magical spirits from a mythical kingdom. Amid the massive leavings, a dozen “river rat” progeny, mostly towheads, climbed, encircled, and hid behind the stumps. Other than this misty image, only one other memory stands out from that day: the moment that my friend Herbie, as we stood with the other kids atop what seemed an impossibly high stump, pushed me off.

I see the stump from which Herbie ejected my urchin self as standing ten feet above the ground, twenty feet across—room enough for twice as many children, or even a small cabin. The top was spongy and layered with viridescent mosses. My flight from the stump remains dreamlike, ceaseless, my hands rope burned from a hanging redwood branch that drooped from a nearby second-growth tree and slowed my descent.

Sonoma County’s redwoods were among the widest and the tallest trees ever to have stood on earth. Many were wider than twenty feet. At one time Guerneville was known as “Stumptown,” until the villagers, in 1870, changed the name in honor of the man who owned the largest redwood mill in the region. But the stumps remained ubiquitous, and the town simply grew up around them. Occasionally buildings and even roads were built atop the stumps. During the 1970s, workers installing Guerneville’s first sewage system learned the hard way about the buried stumps when their trenchers ran into them. The stumps were as solid as the day they were cut, and the price of laying pipe doubled.

No doubt many visitors puzzled over the name “Stumptown,” for nary a stump nor even a tree stood downtown after the mid-twentieth century. Before white settlers first occupied the lower Russian River, around 1860, the redwood forests were forever deep, cool, and moist, running along wide river flats for nearly thirty miles to the coast. The forest coated slopes and dominated streams that almost never saw sun. Forty years later, the great trees were gone. A forest without peer had been erased without pause. By the mid-1960s, tourists would again see green hillsides surrounding the town, but these were second-growth redwoods, as well as Douglas fir and hardwoods.

Today we know nearly nothing about the Guerneville redwoods or about similar though distinctive primordial realms that collectively made up the original coast redwood ecosystem. The natural redwood range covers an area of about 2 million acres. The forest follows a narrow band along California’s coastal mountains for 450 miles, from Big Sur to a point 20 miles north of the Oregon border, never growing more than 30 miles inland.

Thanks largely to an accident of economics, a few small remnant groves of ancient redwood still stand, comprising almost eighty thousand acres, or about 4 percent of the original ecosystem. The redwood forest is a world fantastically alive. John Steinbeck called redwoods “a stunning memory of what the world was like once long ago.”

Redwoods began evolving two hundred million years ago, at the beginning of the early Jurassic period, arriving just after the dinosaurs. They survived the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea and continental drift, and they managed to withstand, escape, and evolve within raging climatological shifts. Sixty-six million years ago, when the Chicxulub meteor wiped out the dinosaurs and 75 percent of all life on Earth, redwoods prevailed and then thrived. To withstand ongoing reorganizations of climate, redwoods migrated. Today redwood fossils are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Tourists in the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains might visit a small group of large fossilized redwood stumps, at eighty-two hundred feet elevation, at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. The stumps are thirty-four million years old.

Eventually the redwood family split into three genera. Coast redwood, the “ever-living” Sequoia sempervirens, remains the only species of the Sequoia genus. Several small islands of the coast redwood’s cousin, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), still stand in the Sierra Nevada mountains and are major tourist attractions due to their otherworldly sizes. The redwood’s true ancestor, the dawn redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, was long believed extinct until a small pocket of the trees was rediscovered in south-central China in the 1940s. Once the coast redwoods settled along a tiny sliver of coastline in North America, they withstood cataclysmic earthquakes, epochal floods, raging wildfires, and hurricane winds—and prospered.

Nearly all of the ancient redwood inventory that stands today is found principally in five state parks (Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Humboldt Redwoods, and Big Basin), Redwood National Park, and the federally managed Headwaters Forest Reserve. All except Big Basin, near Santa Cruz, are in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. No grove larger than 500 acres stands between the southernmost park, Big Basin, and the next one north, Humboldt Redwoods, a distance of three hundred miles. Perhaps most extraordinary about this grim statistic is that today in Mendocino County—where once 640,000 acres of ancient redwood grew in an unbroken band eighty-five miles long—fewer than 1,000 acres of the original forest remain.

The scattered archipelago of remaining ancient redwood islands provides sensational aesthetics and critical habitat—endangered marbled murrelets, for instance, would today be far closer to extinction were these redwood groves not available to them—but they are vestiges all the same. They stand as tiny remnants that remain vulnerable to “edge effect” from heavy and widespread industrial logging that continues to surround them. Climate change is already threatening the groves, as terrain dries and fog diminishes. In 2020, two of the preserved groves, Big Basin in Santa Cruz and Armstrong Woods in Guerneville, burned throughout, though not catastrophically at Armstrong Woods. The results are not in at Big Basin, which largely burned to a crisp, though, incredibly, most of the redwoods survived. Redwoods are generally fire resistant, thanks to thick bark and lack of resin. Yet even this hearty tree can withstand only so much scorching.

A walk through an ancient redwood grove remains a moving, even life-changing journey. It’s not just the size of the extraordinary trees but their collectivity and dominance that awe the wayfarer. It’s the absolute, even mystical quiet of place, under which an impossibly high canopy extinguishes sky and presents a prehistoric remnant of a twilight millions of years old. The breadth and history of the great forests are palpable, tidings from another dimension.

From an ecological perspective, the ancient redwoods that remain today stand as living artifacts, almost museum pieces, whose long-term survival is not a given. Tramping these worlds, the end of the redwood rope is quickly reached. The groves give us an idea of the original redwood ecosystem in the way a child’s face reminds us of her grandparents. For the most part we can only guess at what was lost. Like our human ancestors, the true spirit of the ancient redwoods reaches us primarily as specter, or perhaps rumor.

The redwoods were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Redwood lumber was too fine, useful, and available to be saved from the grasp of industry. The rise of the United States, and especially of the western states, to world economic and military dominance was paved, sometimes literally, with the life of the redwood forest. Old-growth redwood produced mostly “clear” lumber products, meaning it was largely free of knots and straight grained. The wood was strong yet light, beautiful. No lumber was more versatile. Redwood lumber resists rot and pest infestations, and it can last for centuries. Timbers used by the Russian military to build Fort Ross, on the Sonoma Coast in 1812, today remain sound.

The northern redwood belt, which ranges from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, produced spectacular volumes of high-grade lumber. Most redwoods stood under twenty feet across, but some were much larger and reached widths of thirty feet. (My house is thirty feet wide.) One tree might have a diameter of twenty feet and stand near a twelve-footer, not far from a sixteen, with a smattering of babies (four to six feet) just to offer scale. And that’s just one family. A stone’s toss will reach another such clump. The scale of growth was far out of proportion to anything humans have ever known anywhere else on earth.

Redwoods grow so tall that a person standing in the middle of the forest rarely sees the treetops. Lack of light below the canopy renders lower branches superfluous, so the first branch might be 150 feet, sometimes more than 200 feet, above the ground. The trees are ancient. A nineteenth-century history compiled by Santa Rosa attorney Thomas Jefferson Butts claims that a redwood cut down along the Russian River, sometime in the 1870s, was thirty-three hundred years old.

Butts lived in Guerneville at the time. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Guerneville ranked second only to Eureka, in Humboldt County, as a supplier of redwood products. After counting the rings of this tree, Butts reported that the redwood was seventeen feet in diameter “when Christ was upon the earth.” Its diameter was only twenty-three feet two thousand years later, meaning that the tree had put on just one inch of width every thirty years.

An 1895 edition of the trade journal Pacific Coast Wood and Iron carried an essay in which Butts claims that the old redwood was also “the largest tree that ever grew in Sonoma County, so far as is known.… It was chopped down by a man by the name of [William] English, and was manufactured into shingles of which it made upwards of 600,000.” The key phrase here may be “so far as is known.” Butts explains that very little witnessing for future generations occurred among the men who cut down these trees.

Three years later Butts ran his essay in the 1898 edition of Reynolds & Proctor’s Atlas of Sonoma County. Here the author either corrects or embellishes the earlier piece. In the Atlas version, the great Russian River redwood would have yielded 150,000 board feet of lumber and earned English $3,000. (It took English two years to chop his 600,000 shingles, and he became prosperous in the process.) The exact number is unimportant, though I’m inclined to believe the larger figure. For instance, in 1876 a travel writer for the Cincinnati Gazette toured the West and somehow found his way to Guerneville. In what amounted to a footnote, the reporter noted that “one tree, and I helped to measure it, will cut 240,000 feet of inch boards, nearly all clear lumber.” We have no idea where this astonishing tree stood or who cut and milled it.

Such a figure boggles the mind. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the best of the East’s remaining great pine forests produced 30,000 board feet per acre. Yet a single redwood that clocked 240,000 board feet, while not necessarily common, was certainly a regular discovery.

In his 1952 study, 100 Years of the Redwood Lumber Industry, historian H. Brett Melendy notes, “The maximum volume known for [a single] coast redwood is 361,366 board feet, sufficient lumber for twenty-two five-room bungalows.” Yet even this extraordinary figure requires updating. A redwood discovered in 2014, and still standing in one of the northern parks, may hold more than four hundred thousand board feet of lumber volume. Somehow Melendy missed the Lindsay Creek tree, which grew along a riparian flat just above the Mad River, in Humboldt County. According to an elderly logger, interviewed in 1971, the Lindsay Creek tree, at 390 feet tall and 34 feet in diameter at the base, contained a science-fictional tally of more than one million board feet of lumber. It was the largest known single-stem tree ever to have stood on planet Earth. Today the Lindsay Creek stump remains in place, still sound.

The “Church of One Tree,” built in 1873, rose entirely from lumber milled out of one of history’s well-referenced redwoods. This great conifer stood 275 feet tall and was 18 feet in diameter, according to historical records. It grew on the Guerneville “Big Bottom,” an ancient river oxbow that drained when a natural levee breached some seven thousand years ago. Once dry, the south-facing plain held dozens of feet of silty soil that gathered airborne redwood seeds and grew a forest that, measured in volume and sheer physical grandeur, was equaled by just two other sites in the world, both of them in Humboldt County. When the levee broke it left a high, straight riverbank that, once logged, is where Guerneville pioneers built their town.

No tree grows taller than the coast redwood. The tallest measured tree found on the Big Bottom—and here I emphasize measured, for very few redwoods actually were—was affectionately known to locals as the “Monarch of the Forest.” This grand spire topped out at 367.7 feet—62 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. (In 1963, the National Geographic Society would announce discovery of the “world’s tallest tree,” on Redwood Creek in Humboldt County, which measured 367.8 feet.) Sometime in the 1870s, loggers felled the Monarch of the Forest along Fife Creek, near the present-day Guerneville Safeway, where I worked as a teenager.

There is little doubt that trees taller than the Monarch once stood on the Big Bottom and at less prominent sites along the lower Russian River and elsewhere in the redwood range that were witnessed only by timber workers. Some Russian River redwoods may have reached or exceeded 400 feet. In 1889, the Humboldt Times noted a redwood on Elk River that loggers claimed was 424 feet tall when they brought it down in 1886.


When he lived in Guerneville during the 1870s, Thomas Jefferson Butts worked as a logger and studied law. He reported on many big trees, several of which he helped fell, including one near Guerneville that was “22 feet in diameter, and was perfectly round and without blemish. The bark on this tree was 14 inches thick, and in 1869 a ring of bark 4 feet long was stripped from this tree and taken to New York” to be put on display. In the redwood forest, even the dead trees—called snags—are spectacular. Butts wrote of “the dead stub of a once mighty tree” that grew alongside the Russian River. “This stub, long before the advent of civilized man into the country, was broken off about 200 feet from the ground and was 10 feet in diameter at the break. It was hollowed out like a huge flue or chimney. The writer and another party felled this stub about fifteen years ago and manufactured from it over $900 worth of shakes and other products.”

Butts found his trees primarily in an area that would soon be called Russian River Station—a place that no longer exists, but I know where it is.

During the late nineteenth century, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad ran from Sausalito through western Marin and Sonoma counties until reaching the Russian River five miles downstream of Guerneville, near the small town of Monte Rio. Russian River Station primarily served the redwood timber industry, but even as early as the 1870s, Bay Area tourists made the long journey by train to swim in the sparkling Russian River and see the majestic, and doomed, ancient redwoods that stood along its banks. As it happens, Russian River Station also stood at the heart of an eleven-hundred-acre expanse of redwood forestland that was owned by my ancestors.

The low-lying and easily accessed groves on the property were logged in the 1870s and 1880s, before my great-great-uncle Thomas King and his partner, John Starrett, purchased the land around 1890. Yet the hillsides and small tributaries remained coated in great redwoods. King and Starrett built their mill at Russian River Station. Lumber produced by the partners traveled swiftly along sleek rails to a burgeoning Bay Area and beyond.

Both King and Starrett were inveterate timbermen. The longtime friends hailed from large Canadian families that had spent the previous two generations clearing the Canadian wilderness outpost of Spencerville, Ontario, of its great pine and oak forests. Thomas King’s grandfather, also Thomas, an English loyalist, had emigrated from Castleblayney, Ireland, to Canada in 1823 to take title to a 190-acre British Crown land grant, which the government awarded to settlers who would provide lumber for warships and merchant vessels.

The Thomas King who immigrated to Sonoma County in 1873 was one of four King brothers who, in the chain-migration pattern of the day, uprooted for the new land of American promise. Six siblings would remain in Canada. Thomas, William, and James King arrived in Sonoma County together that year, and a younger brother, my great-grandfather David, joined them in 1887. They were following their uncle John King, the son of Thomas and Margaret. During the late 1860s John King had settled in Westport, north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, to log the redwoods there.

On my wall hangs a black-and-white photo of the four King brothers. In late May 1915, they posed for Monte Rio photographer J. B. Rhea. The aging men stand shoulder to shoulder in front of redwood branches blurred by breeze. Rhea was photographing a King-Starrett family reunion, “the first time in 47 years that the Starrett family had gathered together, and 25 years since the King family had been together,” reported the Petaluma Daily Morning Courier. More than fifty relatives attended. In the photo the King men are grizzled, grim faces pocked and etched. No one is smiling. Brow lines break like ocean surf to full heads of hair. They’re lean in Sunday-best suits, ties, and collared white dress shirts.

Only David King does not wear a vest. A dress coat, rarely worn and too large, hangs off his rounded shoulders. It may have belonged to someone else. David’s tie is oddly striped, poorly knotted, and doesn’t reach his navel. He is the shortest, youngest, and evidently the least prosperous, the only King brother who failed to amass a small fortune.

David and his wife, Annie, did own land along the Russian River, in Monte Rio. They called it “King’s Grove” and offered “boating, fishing and swimming,” along with “tents and camping space to let by the day, week or month.” They bought the land, four riverfront lots cleared of redwoods, in 1907, for $150. My grandfather, Tom King, and his siblings, John and Lorabelle, were all born in David and Lora’s small redwood home across the dirt highway. My father was born there, too, in 1934.

James, to David’s right in the photo, is the tallest of the brothers, standing about six feet. He wears a walrus mustache and pince-nez. He’d traveled for the event from his large dairy and poultry ranch in western Petaluma, in southern Sonoma County. He’d wanted nothing to do with the unwieldy redwoods.

On the right side of the photo is William King. He stands dapper, implacable in a tailored suit with a fine, stiff white collar. A gold watch chain loops from his vest and disappears under a pocket square. He glances away from the camera, as if distracted, or bored. Of the four brothers, William, or “Billie” to his friends and political cronies, was most successful. For many years William King served as Sonoma County deputy assessor, then as county supervisor. He was smart, smooth, and popular. He’d amassed nearly two thousand acres of prime ranch and timber land in the hills of Cazadero. The land is still called the King Ranch, though by now it’s subdivided into “ranchettes” and vineyards. You get there by driving the labyrinthine King Ridge Road.

Austin Creek, which runs through the middle of “town,” defines the Cazadero territory. It’s a large stream, clear with deep pools, popular with swimmers and vacationers and the few year-round residents who call it home. The westernmost stands of the Russian River’s redwoods grow on Austin Creek, and today a few examples of the river’s original redwood forest still hug the flats of this fine stream. The trees were initially preserved by members of the prestigious Bohemian Club, of San Francisco, who began hosting their annual summer retreat underneath Austin Creek’s redwoods in the 1880s. A decade later the Bohemians would move their camp upriver to create their now famous Bohemian Grove, eventually amassing twenty-seven hundred acres of redwood forestland, including two hundred acres purchased from Thomas King and John Starrett.

In the photo, between James and William, stands Thomas, the lumberman. Of the four cheerless faces, his is the bleakest. King and Starrett owned prime riverfront property that was surprisingly close to the Clar bunkhouse on Mays Canyon—though if you drove from one to the other, you’d never know it, because the lower Russian River curves in on itself like a snake. The drive is seven miles; a flight would be two miles. Once King and Starrett had exhausted their timber supply, around 1901, the partners set out to develop their two miles of Russian River frontage and the lush flatlands of Dutch Bill Creek, the lowermost mile of which they owned as well. They grew hops and built a hotel, sued and were sued. Competition was fierce in the growing West County. After selling land to the Bohemian Club, King, in 1915, sold his remaining interest to Starrett for a mortgage of $25,000. Starrett developed the land along the river into what now constitutes most of the town of Monte Rio.


I was ten years old when I first met C. Raymond “Buster” Clar. The encounter was, as often happened in Guerneville, by chance. Early one summer day in 1971, Dad announced that he was headed to the hills above town to chainsaw some downed oak and madrone for our winter firewood stash. Did I want to come along? The question was rhetorical. I loved these excursions. Dad didn’t throw footballs or ride bikes. Tramping the land and cutting firewood was how we had fun together. First stop was two miles north, at my grandparents’ small ranch, to borrow Grandpa’s truck to haul the wood. Then it was up to the seventy-five-acre parcel—which we called “the property”—that my parents owned in the hills above Guerneville.

Even within the handsome low coastal mountains that surround Guerneville, our land stood out for its borderless fit into a larger natural area that was, and remains, Sonoma County’s wildest outback. The parcel’s western boundary adjoined Armstrong Woods, an 800-acre state reserve, half of which stood as the largest intact ancient redwood grove remaining in Sonoma County. (Before logging, 150,000 acres of virgin redwood forest grew in Sonoma County.) Armstrong Woods was adjacent to the 6,000-acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area, which itself abutted tens of thousands of acres of ranchlands that ran northward to Mendocino County and westward to the coast. My dad and grandfather and great-grandfather and their assorted siblings and spouses spent their lives traversing this rugged, almost unpopulated countryside, just as my sisters and I and our cousins would do when we came along.


  • “Groundbreaking… an epic tale of corruption and deception, perpetrated on a mass scale for nearly a century.”—The Atlantic
  • “Haunting … [a] wholly engrossing, urgent account of redwood preservation.”—Kirkus, starred review
  • “King’s dogged research turns up the closed-door deals and nefarious legal schemes that led to the destruction of 96% of redwood forests, providing a disturbing chronicle of how lumber companies flouted laws and came out on top. The result is a sobering accounting of the forces environmentalists are up against.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • The Ghost Forest is the book I’ve long wished someone would write, and Greg King has done it luminously well. He tells the epic story of the destruction of 96 percent of the primeval redwoods in California—including the criminal and bankrupt horrors of ‘liquidation logging’ done in the 1980s and 90s by corporate raider Charles Hurwitz and the Maxxam Corporation. And he tells the story of activists and protesting tree climbers (including himself) who put their lives on the line to save the Headwaters Forest Reserve, a jewel of the redwood realm.”—Richard Preston, author of The Wild Trees and The Hot Zone
  • “The farther I traveled into The Ghost Forest the more convinced I became I was reading an epic. It is encyclopedic in historical knowledge and detail, deeply felt in its love of redwood country, and fierce in its passion for saving the last remnants of old growth forest from rapacious and unconstrained capitalism.”—Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain and The Trackers
  • Ghost Forest is a haunting requiem for one of Earth’s magnificent forests. Human survival has rested on our ability to recognize opportunity by exploiting the planet’s abundance. Once armed with fossil fuels and machines, we have felled entire ecosystems to serve our limitless demands. King’s feelings of awe, humility, and love before giant redwoods are needed to slake our drawdown of the rest of nature.”—David Suzuki, OBE, international climate activist and author of Tree: A Life Story
  • “King is an American hero. And he has written a heroic book—a book befitting the California redwoods, which are the tallest, the oldest, and arguably the most magnificent creatures on the planet. The Ghost Forest is a stunning work: beautifully written, exquisitely researched, compelling, funny, angry, poetic, cynical, idealistic, and always fascinating. King’s important reinterpretation of the history of the Save‑the‑Redwoods League reads like a detective novel. We are all in King’s debt for having the courage to tell his story, and to tell it so beautifully.”—Jonathan Spiro, author of Defending the Master Race
  • “In this combination of memoir and investigative report, King, veteran of the Northern California timber wars, evokes the spirit of the long‑gone fog shrouded giants that fell to axe and saw. He paints a picture both inspiring and disturbing of the heroic forest defenders, the intractable timber beasts, and the nefarious opportunists that played the two sides against each other for their own profit. He takes us on one final journey across the sacred ground where the great booming forests once stood and are now lost forever.”—Will Russell, professor of environmental studies, San Jose State University
  • “This book is the story of one man’s fight to save the planet’s tallest trees. As a young man, King risked everything to stop logging companies from hacking down the last big California redwoods. The Ghost Forest brilliantly recounts his odyssey to make sense of the millennial mystery and modern history of the great forest. It’s an unforgettable story, and one more necessary than ever with the future of the earth itself under threat.”—Orin Starn, professor of history, Duke University, and author of Ishi’s Brain
  • The Ghost Forest is a tale both infuriating and inspiring. It covers the destruction of California’s redwood forests, told from a perspective that could not be more up close and personal. From its gripping opening scene of activist vs logger, to its unfolding story of the magnificent trees themselves, the book rushes with the energy of a river in spring. All of us who care about the future of human existence on the planet, and who want to understand the ways in which that future can be compromised, need to read this story.”—Bruce Cockburn, International music star, author of Rumours of Glory
  • “Writing about redwoods is hard because of the ancient forest’s unimaginable grandeur, in space and time, and because of the sickening violence and waste of its almost complete destruction in less than two centuries. Greg King has written about it exceptionally well, and with good cause. Having grown up in the “Redwood Empire,” he has spent much of his life exploring the forest, on the ground and in libraries. He knows the tangled politics of forest destruction and protection in great detail from personal participation and observation. He has risked his life more than once to find and help save significant “last stands” like the Headwaters Forest. And he writes about it all with poetic fervor, scientific precision, political wisdom, and a droll, self‑deprecating sense of humor that brings the adventuresome days of Earth First! and tree‑sits to life with a clarity that is in wonderfully refreshing contrast to the muddle of mass media coverage.”  —David Rains Wallace, author of The Klamath Knot
  • “The Ghost Forest is long overdue. The book is a page‑turner, a calibrated adventure of the highest sort. At last we have a comprehensive accounting of the entire ancient redwood ecosystem that once stood, who cut it down, and who stepped up to save these fabulous trees—a story necessarily written by the most committed of redwood defenders. I have followed Greg King’s work since 1987, just after he left a successful career as a journalist to lead an audacious fight for the last redwoods. Yet it is this journalist’s eye for detail, and for the complex history of redwood logging and protection, that makes The Ghost Forest such an important contributor to the canon of American conservation.”—Yvon Chouinard, founder, Patagonia, Inc.
  • The Ghost Forest captures the adventure and dangers of early redwood exploration and the evolution of a modern preservationist from an insider’s perspective. Here Greg King explores threatened historic redwood groves which had never been seen before, and brings to life untold stories of the fight to preserve these last forests.”—Erv Peterson, Professor Emeritus, Environmental Studies, Sonoma State University
  • “How many people who travel to see California’s coniferous giants know why they’re still standing? King, a journalist and dedicated redwood activist… considers the ecosystem itself and how it affects its surroundings, using his lifelong love of these mighty ‘ghosts’ to bring them to life.” —Los Angeles Times
  • “Passionate… King’s engaging narrative exposes the maneuvering of lumber companies that plundered redwood forests for decades, with the collusion of powerful individuals in politics, academia, and civil service.” —Library Journal
  • “Greg King is an authoritative guide… The Ghost Forest triumphs as a comprehensive accounting of events and entities that ushered in this irreplaceable loss… Although set in the past, the book is urgently of-the-moment… the systems of power and wealth that targeted the redwoods and their protectors continue to inflict violence on Earth’s defenders worldwide.”—Science magazine
  • “Deeply researched and compellingly written.”—Times Literary Supplement
  • “A celebrated activist for the California redwoods holds nothing back in this indictment of the organizations to blame for cutting down almost the entire redwood forest in the name of economic growth.” —Saturday Evening Post
  • “Likely to become a classic. ... For anyone concerned with the environment and its defense, this book is an essential read.”—North Coast Journal
  • “A classic tale of David meeting Goliath … will likely become a fast favorite for anyone interested in the fate of trees.”—Cascadia Daily News

On Sale
Jun 6, 2023
Page Count
480 pages

Greg King

About the Author

Greg King is an award-winning journalist and activist credited with spearheading the movement to protect Headwaters Forest, in Humboldt County, California. King initiated the “redwood wars” following the notorious 1985 takeover of the venerable Pacific Lumber Company by the Houston energy and real estate conglomerate Maxxam.  Greg King has spent decades researching redwood logging and preservation efforts. King’s articles and photographs have appeared in The Sun, Sierra, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, the Portland Oregonian, the Sacramento Bee, Mother Jones and other publications.  In 2016 the Environmental Protection Information Center presented King with its annual Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award. King lives in Humboldt County.

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