When Hugging Kills Trees…

“Parks are made to bring the music to the many, but by the time many are attuned to hear it there is little left but noise.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, p.159, 1949

Those Who Hug Trees

It seems to be a staple when visiting the Redwood Region of the United States: the family photo with everyone squeezed inside a hollowed out, but still living, tree. Or maybe the photo under one of the area’s drive through trees. Or perhaps one with the kids’ arms stretched out as they try to reach around a 20 foot diameter tree. These shots are especially alluring since the perspective of the tree is better shown this way. It looks HUGE!

Perhaps only one of those images would a “tree hugger” be truly against; I mean, really, how do you experience a huge tree from the interior of your car?! Seriously.  But the rest of the photos are of people showing their admiration of the trees, or even literally hugging the tree, which wouldn’t likely ruffle too many feathers of the most extreme environmentalists, right?  The stereotype of a “tree hugger” is one who is “with” nature and wouldn’t do anything detrimental to Mother Nature. They might even wear hemp clothing and be barefoot, depending on the stereotype in your head. One could imagine, as they walk through the woods, that they would hug each tree they saw and bestow heaps of endearing compliments onto them.

Thank heavens the world doesn’t follow my stereotypes! If all the “tree huggers” were to behave that way, we’d have no trees!

Tree Hugger = Tree Killer?!

I never really thought that hugging a tree could do any damage until I moved here. Sure, maybe that isolated tree out in the woods that doesn’t see but one or two visitors a year wouldn’t mind a hug, but the trees near the trails and pullouts are being loved to DEATH! With some type of odd irony the universe finds humorous, Redwoods, in all their tall and lovely grandeur, have very shallow roots. Very shallow. They are standing on their tippy toes.  Somewhere between 8 and 12 feet deep are as deep as Redwood roots sink.

Any of the shorter trails you walk in the Redwoods, you’ll find what they call ‘social trails’ out to the largest trees. The parks didn’t put these in! People looking to hug every large tree in the forest, or even just a few of the largest, are ‘loving’ the trees to death. Trammeling and trampling over the shallow roots, compacting the soil, killing the plants around the tree, allowing for erosion…the list goes on!  Anyone who knows just a little about plants knows that most need their roots to survive, even the 2000 year old, 350+ ft behemoths of trees that survive multiple wildfires, floods and windstorms.

A Tree’s List of Do’s and Don’t’s

I think the trees could offer up some ideas on how to love them without loving them to death [of course, trees don’t think, just react, so this is all a figment of my imagination! ;) ].


  • Get Out of the Car
  • Take a Walk
  • Take Pictures

Please Don’t:

  • Climb
  • Walk Around the Trunk
  • Carve!

The trees would mostly likely encourage everyone to get out of their cars and hit a trail. It’s of no use to ‘experience’ a Redwood forest from your car.  They can be some of the most silent places on Earth–how can you hear that over road noise?! Not to mention, these trees don’t really want to eat our dust, nor the heavy metals that leach out of our tires, nor our exhaust.

It seems that trees, since they can only react to stimuli and, of course, only very slowly, wouldn’t want people to climb on them. They don’t seem to have the best grasp on the laws of physics, so why tempt gravity and pull on a load-bearing branch?

And no one likes their toes stepped on!

Any while it might not be so much much the case for the Redwoods [since their bark can be a foot thick!], other trees really, really hate it when they are carved into.  Bark is essentially tree skin, keeping out all the infections and bugs that would love to invade the inner parts of the tree. Carving only opens a wound that could be the end of the tree.

"Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness." Aldo Leopold p.157 The Sand County Almanac




3 thoughts on “When Hugging Kills Trees…

  1. One of the most memorable tv documentaries (PBS Nature? I’m not sure—it was quite a few years ago) I have seen was of a scientist who was studying the duff (decomposed materials) inside redwood trees. He was rappelling down into the hollow spaces within the ancient trees—–100’s of feet down inside the trees, to see what he could learn about their history. Some of the materials he found were 1000’s of years old. Inside these trees was an entire ecosystem of its own.

    Maybe around the trees used to have similar materials—-until so many people walked by?

    Great post and thanks for reminding us to stay onthe trail (hopefully a durable surface) when we enjoy a well-loved natural area.

    – Caroline

  2. I think you are right, the process of duff accumulating around the trees is probably very close to the process that occurs in the canopy, minus all the disturbances. I haven’t watched that documentary yet [it’s on our Netflix queue!], but it sounds like Sillett’s work. Amazing to think that people really hadn’t thought to get in the canopy of a temperate forest before that!

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