National Geographic: Climbing Redwood Giants


[Press Release – Released by National Geographic]

They are living giants — among Earth’s largest and longest-lived trees. Some tower higher than 350 feet, or taller than the Statue of Liberty; some may have been seedlings when Jesus was born. These natural legends house secret-garden worlds high up in their canopies and shroud centuries-old mysteries.

This fall, National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Channel (NGC) journey deep into the great redwood forests on the American West Coast for an illuminating look at these magnificent wonders — from the outermost edges of the forest to the tip of a single tree’s crown. For the first time, we’ll size up the health and future of the redwood range on foot and scale the trees’ hulking limbs 30 stories up to glimpse rich canopy ecosystems in the clouds. Then, we’ll see how state-of-the-art digital technology provides a never-before-seen perspective of a 300-foot tall titan.

The redwood adventure is described in the cover story of the October issue of National Geographic magazine and in NGC’s Explorer: Climbing Redwood Giants, premiering Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. More information can be found at

In 2007-2008, conservationist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay set out to walk the entire redwood range to study how forestry management is affecting the trees’ survival. Both the magazine cover article and film illuminate Fay and his hiking partner’s unprecedented 333-day, 1,800-mile trek from Big Sur north to southern Oregon. “There’s nothing that compares to the redwood,” says Fay in the film. “When you walk through one of the ancient groves of redwoods, you get a feeling like no other forest can give you.”

Over the course of their grueling journey, Fay became convinced that California could be at the forefront of a new philosophy of forestry, one that holds the promise not just of sustainable logging but of some forest recovery.

In the National Geographic magazine cover article, author Joel Bourne describes the complicated logging history of the redwood range and reveals the forestry management techniques that may lead toward Fay’s vision of redwood forests managed not only for human benefit but also with an eye to bringing back the rich diversity of ecosystems that once flourished throughout the redwood range.

Graphics show how canopy gardens grow, and Michael “Nick” Nichols’ photographs of the forests, their wildlife and the communities around them bring home the beauty of this unique American habitat. The issue includes a five-page foldout poster of Nichols’ full-length portrait of a 300-foot tree.

Juxtaposed with the challenges of Fay’s 11-month trek through clear-cuts, second-growth forest, dense underbrush and soaring cathedral-like old-growth stands, Explorer: Climbing Redwood Giants highlights the work of forest scientist Steve Sillett of Humboldt State University ― the first scientist to climb into redwood canopies and pioneer studies of their rich canopy ecosystems. Hear about his “mind-blowing” findings in the canopy during his extensive eight-year research, including immense tree limbs that support three-foot-thick mats of canopy soil, huckleberry bushes with fruit and even wandering salamanders.

Sillett’s painstaking cataloging and measurement of trees by hand is complemented by a new use of lidar (light detection and ranging) technology, which allows him to pinpoint trees from airplane surveys — prompting discoveries of tall trees hidden on slopes or valleys. Viewers are taken up into the trees to experience the mystery and grandeur of the canopy and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how National Geographic photographer Nick Nichols captured a unique perspective of a 300-foot tall tree. Nichols used state-of-the-art digital technology and human ingenuity to rig cameras that smoothly traveled from the crown of the tree to its base.

With insight from Fay’s extreme expedition and Sillett’s detailed research, as well as that of foresters practicing forest management, National Geographic celebrates the majesty of the remaining ancient giants and shines a light on what the future holds for our redwood forests.

“If you’re lucky enough to get up into the crowns of one these trees, it puts your own insignificant existence in perspective,” says Sillett in the film. “It makes you realize that there’s something much greater than yourself.”

Together, National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Channel reach more than 350 million people worldwide.

Explorer: Climbing Redwood Giants is produced by National Geographic Television for the National Geographic Channel. For National Geographic Television, executive producer is Jonathan Halperin, series producer is Max Salomon and producer/directors are John Rubin and James Donald. For the National Geographic Channel executive producer is Kathleen Cromley, senior vice president of production is Juliet Blake and executive vice president of content is Steve Burns.

For more information, visit

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About National Geographic magazine
Long recognized for outstanding photojournalism, award-winning National Geographic magazine offers in-depth reporting on science, world cultures, archaeology, paleontology, adventure and the environment to inspire readers to care about the planet. Reaching more than 35 million readers a month, the magazine is the official journal of the National Geographic Society, founded in 1888. Sale of the magazine supports the exploration and research work of the Society, one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Published in English and 31 local-language editions, the magazine is available on newsstands or can be ordered by calling (800) NGS-LINE or visiting its Web site at

National Geographic Channel
Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channel (NGC) is a joint venture between National Geographic Ventures (NGV) and Fox Cable Networks (FCN). Since launching in January 2001, NGC initially earned some of the fastest distribution growth in the history of cable and more recently the fastest ratings growth in television. The network celebrated its fifth anniversary in January 2006 with the launch of NGC HD, which provides the spectacular imagery that National Geographic is known for in stunning high-definition. NGC has carriage with all of the nation’s major cable and satellite television providers, making it currently available in nearly 70 million homes. For more information, please visit