World’s Largest Private Sequoia Grove Set to Become Public Land
In big news for redwood lovers, a California-based conservation group succeeded in purchasing a 530-acre giant sequoia grove as part of its mission to protect these ancient forests for generations to come.
On December 31, 2019, Save the Redwoods League, a century-old conservation group based in San Francisco, succeeded in purchasing a 530-acre, giant sequoia–filled property in Southern California with the intention of eventually turning it over to the U.S. Forest Service and possibly opening it to the public. In September of 2019, the organization signed an initial agreement to raise the necessary $15.6 million to purchase the grove by the end of the calendar year. Thanks to 8,500 donors from all 50 states and around the world, the fundraising goal was met and Alder Creek was successfully purchased.
What was the largest remaining privately owned giant sequoia forest in the world, Alder Creek sits just south of Sequoia National Park in the larger Giant Sequoia National Monument and contains 483 giant sequoias larger than six feet in diameter—that’s four more than in Yosemite’s famous Mariposa Grove, the Mercury News reports—and hundreds more that are just slightly smaller.
“It’s hard to describe [Alder Creek] without going over the top,” Sam Hodder, president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, tells AFAR. “Many of the giant sequoia [here] are growing in high alpine meadow, so there’s this carpet of wildflowers and low-growing shrubs that give a vibrancy and green and red and yellow and white to the understory, and then there are the huge cinnamon-barked trunks that surround you everywhere in the property. . . . It really is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.”
But it’s not just the mesmerizingly huge trees that make Alder Creek special for outdoors lovers and researchers alike; there are sequoia of every age here. Hodder explains that it’s hard for giant sequoia to reproduce; they need very specific conditions to do so. “To have a grove that has this full spectrum,” he says, “from one [year] and then up to a couple of decades old to a few hundreds of years old and then the giant monarchs, that shows a health and diversity in this grove that is truly unique.”
Alder Creek is the latest in a long history of arboreal preservation for Save the Redwoods League. Since 1918, the organization has protected 200,000 acres of redwood forests in California, which is the last remaining stronghold of these gargantuan and once widespread trees, and helped to create 66 redwood parks and preserves—charismatic spaces that people now travel from around the world to experience.
According to a Save the Redwoods League press release, more than 98 percent of California’s giant sequoia groves are now protected in public, tribal, or League ownership.
Other recent successes include the $4 million purchase of the 160-acre Red Hill property, also within Giant Sequoia National Monument, in May 2018 and the acquisition of the 730-acre Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve, a haven of coast redwoods in Sonoma County, in June of that same year. Both properties are slated to open to the public in 2021; Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve will be one of the first old-growth coast redwood parks created in a generation.
Before transferring forest properties to permanent caretakers such as the U.S. Forest Service to create or augment parks, Save the Redwoods League helps to create long-term restoration and public access plans—a step that anyone who visited overcrowded Muir Woods National Monument before the implementation of its new permit system will surely agree is important. “When we first started protecting redwoods,” says Hodder, “the population in California was only 5 million people and it was a very different visiting audience than the public who needs these places today. . . . [We’re reimagining] the redwood parks to better serve a more dynamic, more exciting, and more diverse visiting public.”
But while new parks make headlines, much of the work Save the Redwoods League does up and down California is behind the scenes, restoring groves to their old-growth conditions by thinning overgrown sections, planting seedlings, and removing old logging roads. And the league is doubling down on that work with a new collaboration with Redwood State and National Parks called Redwoods Rising. “It’s an effort to rewild this epic forest,” says Hodder. “We are using public and private money to start that long and challenging process of restoring those public lands to bring back that old-growth form and function . . . to create the old growth of the future.” And because redwood forests sequester three times more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem, the long-term implications are massive: “If we can restore them and get them growing again, they can not only inspire future generations, but can also be an important tool in the fight against climate change.”
For now, Alder Creek will remain closed to the public while Save the Redwoods and its partners restore the forest. However, Hodder notes that a small subdivision built on the property in the 1960s left a network of dirt jeep trails that run through portions of the grove, which, he says, helps open up the possibility that this could become a new ancient redwood destination.
Alder Creek, Red Hill, and the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve are all part of Save the Redwoods League’s new comprehensive conservation campaign, Forever Forest. The ambitious six-year venture aims to raise $120 million by 2022 to accelerate the pace and scale of redwood forest land conservation by protecting entire landscapes through large-scale, strategic land acquisitions; restoring young redwood forests to become the old-growth forests of the future; and creating new park experiences to help all people connect with redwoods. As of January 2020, the campaign has raised $80 million.
If you’d like to donate to the Forever Forest campaign, you can do so here.
This article originally appeared online in September 2019; it was updated on March 2, 2020, to include current information.