Opposites Attract: Saving Giant Redwoods and a Pygmy Forest

Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods. Photo by Mike Shoys
Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods. Photo by Mike Shoys

Thanks to your support, we were recently able to purchase and permanently protect Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods!

Having been in the business of protecting redwoods for nearly a century, you’d think the League would have been involved in every kind of redwoods property imaginable. That’s pretty close to the truth, but this place brought something truly unique our way — thank you for recognizing this tremendous opportunity, and for taking action.

Tucked away next to Mendocino Headlands State Park, Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods is home to not one but two types of significant forest: old-growth redwoods and rare pygmy forest. The steep, lush canyons here shelter magnificent ancient redwoods. Nearby, on gentler terrain, a mixed-age redwood forest eagerly growing to become the old-growth of future generations, gradually gives way to another ecological marvel: a pygmy forest.  Here on the bluff above the Big River, you can see diminutive versions of hemlock, bishop pine and Douglas fir, rhododendron and huckleberry — whose growth has been stunted by a particular combination of unusual environmental conditions.

In parts of Northern California and Oregon, tectonic activity and sea level changes have created terraces of land along the coast. These flat terraces drain poorly, and their nutrient-deficient, acidic soil stunts the growth of the plants that live there, creating the unique pygmy forest. Just how small are these trees? The coast redwood is known for its stature — old-growth trees can reach heights of over 365 feet under typical conditions. Pygmy coast redwoods are usually closer to 40 feet, and grow no taller than 135 feet as old growth — only a third the size of their non-pygmy siblings! Here in Mendocino, you have the opportunity to see both.

The ecological, recreational and inspirational value of this place is off the charts. Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods’ old-growth and second-growth redwood stands are ideal locations for imperiled northern spotted owls. The ancient redwoods also offer prime habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests on old-growth branches.

Old-growth redwood forest is rare enough, and especially so in Mendocino County. But to have an ancient redwood forest, known around the world for its iconic and inspiring height, living for thousands of years alongside an equally rare and characteristically “understated” pygmy forest, creates a wonderful marriage of extremes on a single landscape. Put them both together, shrouded in the salt mist of the Northern California coast, at the mouth of the Big River, just a stone’s throw from the quaint seaside town of Mendocino — and you have a conservation opportunity of a lifetime!

Thanks to you, this gem will be protected forever. Next, we will continue to raise private support to restore this forest, and to replenish the Redwood Land Fund so the League can acquire and protect other forests in the future. And, we hope to open the Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods to the public for recreation, including hiking, biking and kayaking.

Learn more about Big River-Mendocino Old-Growth Redwoods.

About the author

President and Chief Enthusiast for the Outdoors (CEO) of Save the Redwoods League, Sam brings more than 25 years of experience in overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city.

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