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Guardians of the Giants: A Legendary 100-Year History of Saving the Redwoods

The League dedicates the Bull Creek-Dyerville Forest as past of the California state parks system in 1931. Photo by Martin, 1931, Save the Redwoods League photograph collection, BANC PIC 2006.030, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley
The League dedicates the Bull Creek-Dyerville Forest as past of the California state parks system in 1931. Photo by Martin, 1931, Save the Redwoods League photograph collection, BANC PIC 2006.030, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

In the summer of 1917, three men had a collective vision. Beneath the 300-foot-tall ceiling of an airy cathedral of ancient trees in Humboldt’s Bull Creek Flats, soft beds of redwood sorrel underfoot and golden rays beaming through the canopy overhead, they found the inspiration to change the course of history.

In Guardians of the Giants: One Hundred Years of Save the Redwoods League—part of a collection of essays in a new book, The Once and Future Forest: California’s Iconic Redwoods, that was published to commemorate the centennial year of Save the Redwoods League—Gary Ferguson illuminates the evolution of a nonprofit organization with ambitions as monumental as the trees its founders fell in love with on that fateful day in Humboldt. Two prestigious paleontologists and a lawyer would start the immense political, social and scientific legwork to ensure the survival of California’s primeval forests at one of the most critical moments in the redwoods’ history, which spans thousands of years.

“… accomplished scientist John C. Merriam thought that by experiencing the redwoods we could ‘turn toward contemplation of undefined sources of being and power.’ Save the redwoods for science or save them for inspiration; for believers in progressive evolution, like so many involved early on with Save the Redwoods League, it was one and the same.”

Powered largely by scientists and bolstered by politicians, financiers and industrialists, Save the Redwoods League reshaped environmental work by performing the tricky balancing act between progressive and conservative agendas. It leveraged philanthropy and legislation to protect the redwoods and develop parkland, and science to preserve them—all while stirring up the nation’s previously untapped reverence for the world’s tallest trees.

The Once and Future Forest: California's Iconic Redwoods limited edition book.Wealthy, influential men, of course, were not the redwoods’ sole saviors. Ferguson details the substantial role that the California Federation of Women’s Clubs played in garnering public support for saving the remaining ancient trees from rampant logging that had been pushing them to the brink of extinction since 1850.

“If the likes of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt had sounded the clarion call from on high about the need to save the redwoods for science and tourism and national posterity, it would be Laura White, Clara Bradley Burdette, Laura Mahan, and others who, through the women’s clubs of California, helped make local residents see them as anchors for community, essential threads in the fabric of what it meant to be at home in America.”

One hundred years in the business of protecting, restoring and preserving redwood forests (215,000 acres and counting), yet the work has only just begun. Just as the time was ripe for the founding of Save the Redwoods League in 1918, today’s climate change–fueled reckoning in an era marked by political divisiveness means the League’s efforts are more important than ever. Ferguson’s essay tells a dynamic tale about what was, and still is possible when we dream big.

 

Read more of Gary Ferguson’s essay, Guardians of the Giants: One Hundred Years of Save the Redwoods League, in the new book, The Once and Future Forest, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Save the Redwoods League. Visit SaveTheRedwoods.org/Heyday to order your copy of this limited edition book today.


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About Dana Poblete

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Dana Poblete is a Los Angeles-based writer who writes about sustainable lifestyles and natural history for publications including Condé Nast Traveler and Audubon.



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