A Conservation Opportunity Like No Other
A Conservation Opportunity Like No Other
Superlatives somehow seem lacking when describing the 530-acre Alder Creek forest, the largest remaining giant sequoia property in private ownership. Ancient sequoia soar to the sky, as do magnificent old ponderosa pine and white fir. Native bees and other pollinators swarm the blossoms of elderberry and gooseberry bushes, the soft fluttering of their wings providing a subdued counterpoint to the extravagant birdsong resounding from the trees. The air is rich with the resinous perfume of ceanothus and manzanita warming in the Sierra sun.
The forest of Alder Creek is so palpably ancient that it seems timeless. Black bear, mountain lion, and mule deer are present, but a visitor might almost expect to see a mammoth plodding through the understory.
You’re constantly looking skyward when exploring Alder Creek; the trees demand it. The Alder Creek property encompasses nearly 50 percent of the world’s contiguous old-growth giant sequoia left in private ownership. It supports hundreds of old-growth giant sequoia – including 483 with diameters of six feet or greater – making Alder Creek comparable in size and significance to Yosemite National Park’s famous Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Among its giant sequoia is what is believed to be the fifth-largest tree in the world: the Stagg Tree, a mighty behemoth more than 25 feet wide and 250 feet tall, likely thousands of years old. It’s the largest tree in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, wider than a two-lane street and as tall as a 25-story skyscraper. Of the world’s five largest trees, only the Stagg Tree remains unprotected in private ownership. But arguably the most important aspect of the property is its ancient landscape – a snapshot of a wild California that is rarely seen these days.
Because leaving such a natural treasure in private hands carries great inherent risk, Save the Redwoods League acquired the property in December 2019 for $15.65 million, following a spectacular four-month public fundraising campaign. The League received more than 6,000 contributions from individuals and foundations from across the United States and 19 other countries worldwide. The League will also need to raise additional funds for ongoing stewardship.
Alder Creek is one of the flagship projects of the first ever comprehensive campaign for the redwoods, Forever Forest: The Campaign for the Redwoods, a campaign launched by Save the Redwoods League in January 2020 to garner support for the organization’s ambitious vision for the next century of redwoods conservation. The League’s goal is to raise $120 million by 2022 to fund the first years of this centennial vision, which includes protecting entire landscapes through large-scale, strategic land acquisitions; restoring young redwood forests to become the old-growth forests of the future; and connecting all people with the beauty and power of the redwoods through transformational park experiences.
The League intends to own and manage the property for five to 10 years, during which time the League will continue fundraising to support restoration, stewardship, and public access planning and implementation. Ultimately, the League intends to transfer the property to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in Giant Sequoia National Monument, ensuring its future management in accordance with the monument’s long-term restoration, resource protection, and public access program.
The restoration goal is to bring back a balance of native forest species that have been altered by historical logging and to reduce fuel loads to assure fire resilience and long-term protection.
“Alder Creek is the most consequential giant sequoia conservation project of our lifetime. It’s the largest remaining giant sequoia property in private ownership, and the opportunity to protect it has been decades in the making,” said Sam Hodder, President and CEO of Save the Redwoods League. “Old growth of any species, let alone the world’s largest trees, is extraordinarily rare. There is precious little left of the natural world as we found it before the industrial revolution, Alder Creek is the natural world at its most extraordinary.
“Giant sequoia catalyzed the national conservation movement more than 150 years ago beginning with the protection of Mariposa, and today, Save the Redwoods League has the opportunity to continue this conservation legacy by permanently protecting Alder Creek and its hundreds of giant sequoia trees.”
Giant sequoia forests are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet, encompassing merely 48,000 acres. Although most of it is in conservation ownership, it is vital to secure as much as we can, because every inch of this ancient, resilient, carbon-storing, and inspiring forest is irreplaceable.
The Alder Creek property is bordered on three sides by Giant Sequoia National Monument, the heartland for giant sequoia, the biggest trees on the planet. At 328,000 acres, the monument is a scenic, recreational and scientific treasure of incalculable value, containing more than 45 percent of the world’s giant sequoia trees, and a key component in the long-term conservation strategy for all giant sequoia and the rare and imperiled species that coexist with them. Alder Creek can provide habitat for animals including Pacific fisher, American marten, and California spotted owl.
Alder Creek, the waterway for which the property was named, runs through the northern portion of the property, offering an abundant water source and rich habitat for local fish and wildlife. In addition to sequoia, Alder Creek also contains robust stands of mature red fir, white fir, ponderosa pine, and sugar pine, as well as several other habitats, including meadows, wetlands, and riparian woodlands. Each sustains a unique suite of associated species; together, they form a vital and resilient ecosystem emblematic of the southern Sierra Nevada and California.
“The former owners had always been loggers, and they did harvest trees from the Alder Creek property over the decades,” said Jess Inwood, Parks Program Manager for Save the Redwoods League. “Because wildfires have been suppressed for over 100 years, this selective logging actually helped to emulate the effect wildfire would have had. The result is a more diverse and healthy forest than groves that have had no fire or thinning in a century.”.
The protection of critical landscapes like Alder Creek is among the key goals in the League’s recently released Centennial Vision for Redwoods Conservation. The vision describes plans to address the findings of the League’s first-ever State of Redwoods Conservation Report, which details today’s most pressing challenges for these iconic forests.
Among the findings in the report: The overall state of giant sequoia conservation warrants caution. In contrast to coast redwoods, giant sequoia groves in the rural Sierra region were largely spared the magnitude of the destructive, early logging. However, logging did impact approximately one-third of the total forest footprint and was acutely destructive to several sequoia groves, including one of the largest, Converse Basin.
Among the League’s first priorities on Alder Creek will be to reduce the risk of severe wildfires. Although many parts of the property are healthy due to maintenance by the current landowners, some areas have not had any fire or management in over a hundred years, resulting in unnaturally dense understory that can contribute to severe fires. “We will conduct forest thinning where it’s needed,” said Kristen Shive, director of science.
“This fuels reduction work also will open the forest canopy, providing giant sequoia with the sunlight and bare forest floor they require to thrive,” Shive said. “Unlike many giant sequoia groves, Alder Creek has giant sequoia in all age classes. It’s just one more element that makes this property so spectacular. By removing some of the smaller non-sequoia trees we can both reduce fire risk and help perpetuate the next generation.”
As Americans, we’ve created our national parks and monument systems to ensure that our natural treasures are protected and shared. This is why Save the Redwoods League believes that a landscape as important as Alder Creek should be both safeguarded and made available for public access – as we have done with a number of other significant acquisitions over the years.
By transferring the property to the Forest Service, the League will ensure that it can manage the property for the long-term health of the giant sequoia in coordination with the monument’s general plan, which prioritizes protection of giant sequoia, wildfire risk reduction, watershed protection, habitat enhancement for threatened species, and recreational opportunities. Alder Creek’s inclusion with the monument assures greater protection and stability for the larger giant sequoia forest.
A visit to an ancient sequoia grove is transformative. These forests are life changing in their beauty, longevity, and almost spiritual presence. With a public road leading directly to one of the most extraordinary sequoia groves in existence, Alder Creek offers a truly unique opportunity to share one of nature’s great wonders with the world. Access also brings the opportunity to enrich the value of the larger Giant Sequoia National Monument with additional trails and amenities.