Reimagining Big Basin Redwoods

New hauntingly beautiful post-fire images from Big Basin, and the latest news on the park's recovery plan

With blackened trunks of coast redwood, madrone, and coast live oak dotting a sepia-toned landscape, Big Basin Redwoods State Park has come to symbolize the healing that’s needed across California’s forestlands in an era of climate change and unprecedented wildfire seasons. But look closely enough, and signs of regeneration emerge. It will take patience, a plan, and all Californians to restore our oldest and one of the most iconic state parks. 

After 97% of Big Basin burned in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire, the park remains completely closed for at least the next year. The Rancho Del Oso Nature and History Center is slated to open on Memorial Day weekend, but the Rancho Del Oso trails will remain closed due to fire damage and hazards. California State Parks has been working closely with FEMA and Cal OES to address repair needs throughout all of its parklands. The total cost for all state parks is expected to be approximately $200 million, with most of the costs associated with repairs at Big Basin. There is no set timeline to complete the recovery, planning, and rebuilding.  

Initial recovery at the park has included hazard tree removal, culvert replacement, and facility and infrastructure assessment. State Parks will prioritize projects such as restoring access bridges and protecting road infrastructure and water sources. In consultation with partners, stakeholders, local communities, and the public, planning and reconstructing will involve reimagining the park for climate resilience and equitable public access for millions of Californians and visitors. 

State Park environmental scientists and research partners are monitoring the impacts of the fire on different ecosystems throughout the park. Thanks to coast redwoods’ signature resilience, most of the scorched redwoods trees in Big Basin have begun to re-sprout from buds at their bases and along their branches and trunks. Hardwood trees such as madrone, live oak, and tan oak are sprouting from their bases as well, and many of the ferns, shrubs, and understory plants have started to re-grow. While some species regrowth has been delayed because of the recent dry winter, wildflowers are beginning to bloom and tree seedlings are beginning to germinate and grow. Researchers will also assess the impacts to wildlife species that depend on the oldgrowth redwood forest.  

Photographer Max Whittaker recently toured the damage at Big Basin with California State Parks staff and captured some hauntingly beautiful images of this fire-impacted forest eight months later.

A foggy landscape of a burned forest, with green sprouts growing in the foreground
A view of Big Basin Redwoods State Park eight months after the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex wildfire. Photo: Max Whittaker
A forest road surrounded by burned redwood trees
A park road in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo: Max Whittaker
Three destroyed pickup trucks in the middle of rubble in a burned forest
Burned trucks at park headquarters. Photo: Max Whittaker
A bright yellow-green sprout next to a person's leg with khaki green pants and brown boots.
A bracken fern sprouts from the ashes. Photo: Max Whittaker
Overhead shot of a man in a California State Parks uniform climbing a mountain with sprouts growing in a burned forest
Big Basin Park Maintenance Chief Juan Villarino hikes the Berry Creek Falls Trail. Photo: Max Whittaker
A man in a California State Parks uniform, from behind, standing and looking at a burned forest
California State Parks District Superintendent Chris Spohrer takes in the damage at the Berry Creek Falls Trail. Photo: Max Whittaker
Two men, from behind, looking at a waterfall in a burned forest with fallen logs
California State Parks staff at Berry Creek Falls. Photo: Max Whittaker
A group of people, from behind, walking through a burned forest
Reporters hike the Berry Creek Falls Trail on a tour with park staff. Photo: Max Whittaker
A bright green sprout growing out of a hollow at the base of a burned redwood tree
A coast redwood sprouts from the base of a burned tree. Photo: Max Whittaker
A burned forested mountain landscape
A view of the burned West Berry Creek drainage in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo: Max Whittaker
A bright green sprout growing from the base of a burned tree with ashes on the ground
A young coast redwood sprouts from the ashes. Photo: Max Whittaker
A bright green sprout growing from the base of a dark burned tree trunk
A young coast redwood emerges from the blackened trunk of a burned tree. Photo: Max Whittaker
Bright green sprouts growing on the trunks of burned trees
Resilient coast redwoods recovering and resprouting from their trunks. Photo: Max Whittaker

Save the Redwoods League is working closely with California State Parks and other agencies to rebuild park infrastructure damaged by fires so that these vital facilities can reopen as soon as possible. You can support these important efforts with a donation to the League’s Wildfire Fund today. To help ensure California is prepared for the upcoming fire season, please send a note to your representative encouraging them to fully fund wildfire preparedness immediately.

About the author

Jessica joined the League in 2011 as the Land Project and Stewardship Manager. She has worked in land conservation since 2005 in land project and stewardship management.

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2 Responses to “Reimagining Big Basin Redwoods”

  1. Antonin Guttman

    I saw two CZU Complex fire severity maps, showing the boundary of Big Basin, with Save the Redwoods League at the top. I can’t find them on the web site – could you give me a link? Thanks!

    • Save the Redwoods League

      Hi Antonin, we think that this CZU fire severity map might be the one you are seeking.


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