A family tree takes root in conservation

Pioneering organizer inspires descendants

old-growth trees in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Laura Perrott Mahan helped protect 17,000 acres of old-growth trees in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Photo by Max Forster, @maxforsterphotography.

More than 100 years ago, Eureka’s Laura Perrott Mahan helped galvanize the movement to protect old-growth redwoods in danger of being clear-cut. In recent months, dozens of Mahan descendants and friends continued her legacy by supporting Save the Redwoods’ work to protect coast redwoods.

A black and white historical photograph of Laura Perrott Mahan, a white woman with dark, curly hair in a dark victorian-era dress
Trailblazing conservationist Laura Perrott Mahan inspired her descendants to protect redwoods.
Photo courtesy of Humboldt County Historical Society.

Mahan emerged from the Humboldt County Federation of Women’s Clubs to lead its Redwood Park Committee in 1913. She would go on to create Save the Redwoods League as Organized by the Women of Humboldt County, and use this platform to successfully advocate for the protection of redwoods throughout the region. Her most famous act was standing with other female conservationists between the loggers and the trees in Dyerville Flat. This bought time for her husband James and his brother Lawrence to file court injunctions to save the grove.

Late last year, during the centennial celebration of Humboldt Redwoods State Park (which includes 17,000 acres of old-growth trees that Laura helped preserve), two Mahan descendants, Martha Mahan Cain and Larry Mahan, approached the League to find a way to honor this family legacy. They eventually decided to raise funds to help the League purchase Atkins Place in Mendocino County.

Both Cain and Larry Mahan are avid family history enthusiasts, but the effort is more to them than genealogy; it is about passing on a sense of stewardship of our environment.

“As a retired schoolteacher, I’m concerned about climate change and making sure that future generations not only understand what’s at stake, but also are empowered to take action” said Cain. “Our generation has enjoyed a great run on this planet, and our children deserve the same.”

“While both the Mahan and Perrott families benefited financially from the lumber industry, they similarly developed a sense of the need to preserve the inherent beauty of Humboldt. We saw this as an opportunity to unite everyone around this aspect of the family legacy,” said Larry Mahan.

Cain and Larry Mahan met with more than two dozen members of their extended family over Zoom to discuss the idea, leading to a Mahan Family Descendants and Friends donation web page, set up with the League’s help. “Our family runs the socio-economic and political gamut, and sometimes we don’t agree on things, but taking action to protect the redwoods was something that we all could come together around,” Cain said. “It’s a family project across generations.”

A screenshot of a video conference call on Zoom with 23 participants.
Laura Perrott Mahan’s descendants.

Larry Mahan emphasized the unexpected benefits. “To hear the personal experiences of family members who have walked the Mahan Trail in Founders Grove, how it moved them; this is what we’ll pass on to our children and theirs,” he said.

The Mahan family effort began with a fundraising goal of $25,000 but has already reached $35,000. To honor this effort, a wilderness grove will be dedicated in the family name in Humboldt Redwoods State Park—a fitting counterpoint to the Mahan Trail and Plaque to James and Laura Mahan that currently honor their storied ancestors.


Read more highlights from the Spring 2022 Lost Coast Edition online.

About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

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One Response to “A family tree takes root in conservation”

  1. Griff Griffith

    Thrilled to read this. I hope to see you all in Humboldt Redwoods State Park for Laura Mahan Day, maybe that’s when we can announce the grove?


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