The South Fork of the Tule River drains a spectacular 65,000-acre watershed that is rich in scenery and wildlife and serves as a critical source of water for local communities and the farms and towns of the eastern San Joaquin Valley. But this beautiful river drainage also sustains a natural wonder of great rarity: majestic groves of giant sequoia, the largest trees on Earth. Giant Sequoia National Monument is part of the drainage; in total, the monument consists of almost 330,000 acres of forest and contains 33 giant sequoia groves.
But not all the giant sequoia within the monument have been protected equally. “Inholdings” – privately owned land inside the boundaries of publicly owned protected areas – contain giant sequoia groves that may not be assured permanent protection. Over the years, many of these inholdings have been transferred to the monument, but a few major parcels remained, including Red Hill, a spectacular 160-acre property that contains 110 ancient giant sequoia and borders the South Fork of the Tule River.
Owned by the Nicholas family since the 1970s, Red Hill has been meticulously managed with conservation as the primary goal. The only timber harvesting conducted on the property over the past 40 years was to remove young trees that crowded the ancient giants, along with reducing risky buildups of vegetation that could fuel catastrophic wildfires. The Nicholas family members loved Red Hill and were committed to its protection – but they also knew long-term protection could not be guaranteed without additional safeguards.
Now those protections are assured. After long negotiations with Save the Redwoods League, the family has sold Red Hill.
“Save the Redwoods League shares a lot of our same interests as far as protecting the land and ensuring this resource is going to carry on and be a treasure not only for this generation but for future generations,” said Nicholas. “I feel like it’s a real win-win situation for all of us. The trees protected by my mother, Isabelle Nicholas, will live on.”
The property will be transferred to Giant Sequoia National Monument and will be managed by the US Forest Service. This agreement will open Red Hill for public enjoyment by 2021. Management plans will conform to those of the monument.
The purchase of Red Hill is a watershed event in giant sequoia conservation, and a particularly gratifying achievement for the League and our donors, given that 2018 is our Centennial year. The inclusion of Red Hill in Giant Sequoia National Monument will bring us a step closer to an effective management plan for all giant sequoia, assuring their continued vitality through an era of accelerated climate change. We are grateful for the support for this project.
The League raised $4 million in just five weeks, meeting its goal for the project thanks to a generous challenge issued by an anonymous donor to match all gifts made to Red Hill dollar for dollar. More than 3,100 League members from across the country contributed to the effort, along with significant grants from local and regional foundations including The Joseph & Vera Long Foundation, Ted Martin Legacy Fund at the Central Valley Community Foundation, The Conservation Alliance, the Flora L. Thornton Foundation and the Summer Hill Foundation. The project has also garnered wide support from conservationists, local communities, and public officials, including the US Forest Service, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Sequoia Riverlands Trust.