Ecology         Economy

Boyd Smith, Ecologist

With sometimes 100 foot high vertical walls covered in ferns, there is no wonder as to why it is called Fern Canyon. My good friend, and Environmental Scientist, Randy Turner and I revisited this canyon, a place we have frequented for two decades, to explore and decipher the significance of this ecosystem. 

   Ecologist Boyd Smith, with Environment Scientist Randy Turner

   Many forms of Moss, Lichen, and Fungi can be found living on and decomposing wood in the canyon. Eventually the micro nutrients from these composted materials will flow into the ocean, feeding crustaceans like crab. The river discharges (especially on undammed rivers) from last year’s heavy winter rains should provide an abundance of crab food needed for a high harvest, with lower levels Domoic Acid on California's North Coast.   


Although it had recently broken further, Randy, by reading the forensics, was able to determine that the log had been down for a year. The Artists mushrooms had rotated horizontally.

While the canyon walls are dominated by Sword and 5-Fingered Fern naturally growing high in the canopy, the Leather Fern can be found on the canyon floor, having fallen in and floated down the canyon. 

    While it's true the canyon can get harder to navigate the deeper you go, especially in the winter, tourists young and old are able to easily make it far enough to be awestruck. We met some Japanese tourists in tennis shoes, one of whom had visited previously in summer and seemed overwhelmed by the winter water flow in the canyon. Wear your water shoes and plan on getting wet to the shins for one of the most beautiful hikes in the world.

You can step out of the canyon onto the James Irvine trail.  This trail will take you along the rim, providing a different perspective of the canyon, and the experience of walking amongst the towering redwoods.  

  Since it took Randy and I twenty years of visiting this park to find this slot canyon we're not going to share its location, but we will share the pictures. Randy was quick to notice the sediment story the walls were telling.

  As an environment excursion, Randy and I both agree that this slot canyon is a ten on a scale of ten due to its absolute ecological integrity, beauty, uniqueness and remote location.

    This slot canyon was already, epic, and then at the end, we're rewarded by this seldom seen giant redwood; Easily standing 250 feet high by 12 feet in diameter.

   On our way out, the vertical waterfall and fern-laden walls transition into an ever changing wetland.

   Just when we thought our trek was over Randy and I were graced with yet another important character in the ecology of this area. As we walked out of the canyon we were discussing the obvious downstream dispersal of visible lichen and sword fern on the coastal elders as Home Creek leaves Fern Canyon, meandering through wetlands before entering the Pacific Ocean.  There, not 100 feet from our truck, we encountered a herd of elk cows. We could see the lonesome bull half a mile from the herd. With the sun setting, he'll soon return to the herd and lead them to the safety of the brush to bed down for the night.

    Fern Canyon, Redwood National Park is a pristine example of the Coastal Redwood forest system, making it a significant UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is less obvious is understanding the examples of the natural, ecological, and geological functions. Randy spoke to me of the vast complexity that we have removed from nature and creeks like this one, with its accumulations of fallen trees, stumps, and branches which create a tangle of habitat and structure to help support wildlife. To make up for this loss in most other places, some creeks may need to import materials and build structures to create the complexity and functions of these natural systems in a way that meets the needs of species in a climate changing environment. I noticed the Sitka Spruce had, at some point, grown more rapidly in the perpetually changing salt-sprayed air of this coastal watershed. Thankfully, the Redwoods and Elk now sit in the protection of the park, without the threat of a fractioning habitat that so often weakens unprotected ecosystems, pushing species into extinction.

 All of these examples can and should be applied, where applicable, to utilize natural resources and sciences in modern development and sustainable environment management.

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Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter from a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963. As a man with many famous quotes, in this letter he gives countless quotes from the wolrds greatest thinkers of all time. The discussion of Unjust laws, and how they are not rooted in Natural Law, is one that we will have to continue until we realize that there is but one race, the human race.


Fern Canyon
Part of the Redwoods series


   A discussion on an Ecology Economy could easily lead one to assume that an Ecologist makes money from the environment. It would be harder to suggest that an Ecologist is an expert on the economy, until you examine the words. Eco, as we know, is from the word ecology, the relationships between the organisms and their environment. Nomy is the knowledge of a specific area or laws. Thus, the origin of the word economy means the knowledge of the ecology.

 From the ancient spice trades and modern fisheries, to historic seaports and windmills, natural resources and appropriate technologies are not just the blueprints, but often the core of all sustainability. UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) have been created with the intention of preserving these sometimes ancient secrets. Throughout the year Ecomonthly will visit various WHS, along with environments and businesses, and meet with professionals in search of their Ecology Economy insights.