Protecting an Extraordinary Giant Forest
Superlatives somehow seem lacking when describing the 530-acre Alder Creek property. Ancient sequoias soar to the sky, as do magnificent old ponderosa pines and white firs. Native bees and other pollinators swarm the blossoms of elderberry and gooseberry bushes, the soft fluttering of their wings providing a subdued counterpoint to the extravagant birdsong resounding from the trees. The air is rich with the resinous perfume of ceanothus warming in the Sierra sun.>
The forest of Alder Creek is so palpably ancient that it seems timeless. Black bears, mountain lions, spotted owls, and mule deer are present, but a visitor might almost expect to see a mammoth plodding through the understory.
You’re constantly looking skyward when exploring Alder Creek; the trees demand it. Alder Creek supports hundreds of old-growth giant sequoias, making it comparable in size and significance to Yosemite National Park’s famous Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Among its giant sequoias is what is believed to be the fifth-largest known tree in the world as measured by volume: the Stagg Tree, a mighty behemoth more than 25 feet wide and 250 feet tall, likely thousands of years old. It’s the largest tree in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, wider than a two-lane street and as tall as a 25-story skyscraper. Of the world’s five largest trees, only the Stagg Tree is found outside of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. But arguably the most important aspect of the property is its ancient landscape—a snapshot of a wild California that is rarely seen these days.
Save the Redwoods League acquired the property in December 2019 for $15.65 million, following a spectacular four-month public fundraising campaign. The League received more than 8,500 contributions from individuals and foundations from across the United States and 30 other countries worldwide. We are also raising additional funds for ongoing stewardship.
The League intends to own and manage the property for five to 10 years, during which time fundraising will continue to support restoration, stewardship, and public access planning and implementation. Ultimately, we intend to transfer Alder Creek to the USDA Forest Service for inclusion in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, ensuring the property’s future management in accordance with the monument’s long-term restoration, resource protection, and public access program.
The restoration goal is to bring back a balance of native forest species that have been altered by historical logging and fire suppression, reduce fuel loads to assure fire resilience and long-term protection, prepare the forest for warmer and drier conditions caused by climate change, and ease recovery from the 2020 Castle Fire.
Giant sequoia forests are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet, encompassing merely 25,000 acres. Although most of it is in conservation ownership, it is vital to secure as much as we can, because every inch of this ancient, resilient, carbon-storing, and inspiring forest is irreplaceable.
The Alder Creek property is bordered on three sides by the Giant Sequoia National Monument, the heartland for giant sequoia, the biggest trees on the planet. At 328,000 acres, the monument is a scenic, recreational, and scientific treasure of incalculable value. It contains more than 45% of the world’s giant sequoia trees and is a key component in the long-term conservation strategy for all giant sequoias and the rare and imperiled species that coexist with them. Alder Creek provides habitat for animals including Pacific fisher, American marten, and California spotted owl.
Alder Creek, the waterway for which the property was named, runs through the northern portion of the land, offering an abundant water source and rich habitat for local fish and wildlife. The property contains robust stands of mature red fir, white fir, ponderosa pine, and sugar pine, as well as several other habitats, including meadows, wetlands, and riparian woodlands. Each sustains a unique suite of associated species; together, they form a vital and resilient ecosystem emblematic of the southern Sierra Nevada and California.
A CRUCIAL PROJECT
The protection of critical landscapes like Alder Creek is among the key goals in the League’s Centennial Vision for Redwoods Conservation. The vision describes plans to address the findings of the League’s first-ever State of Redwoods Conservation Report, which details today’s most pressing challenges for these iconic forests.
Among the findings in the report: The overall state of giant sequoia conservation warrants caution. In contrast to coast redwoods, giant sequoia groves in the rural Sierra region were largely spared the magnitude of destructive early logging. However, logging did impact approximately one-third of the total forest footprint and was acutely destructive to several sequoia groves, including one of the largest, Converse Basin.
RECOVERING FROM THE CASTLE FIRE AND MINIMIZING THE RISK OF DESTRUCTIVE WILDFIRE
In September 2020, the Castle Fire, part of the SQF Complex Fire, reached Alder Creek. While the majority of the property burned at low to moderate severity, roughly 38% burned at high severity, killing at least 108 large, old-growth giant sequoias and numerous fir and pine trees. Within these high-severity areas, fire consumed cones and seeds and damaged the soil, putting this area at risk of converting from a forest to a shrub-dominated landscape. Recognizing this, t he League and its partners have embarked on a reforestation strategy. The goals of this approach are to restore a resilient and diverse forest by reducing the density of dead trees and replanting the area with native tree species to promote a mature forest in the future.
In the areas of low- to moderate-severity fire, the League is prioritizing restoration work to reduce the risk of future severe wildfires at Alder Creek and prepare these areas to be more resilient to the effects of climate change . Although many parts of the property were well maintained by the previous landowners, some areas had not had any fire or thinning for several decades, resulting in an unnaturally dense understory that can contribute to severe fires. Restoration activities in these areas may include thinning and prescribed fire. This fuels reduction work also will open the forest canopy, providing giant sequoias with the sunlight and bare forest floor they require to thrive.
Unlike many giant sequoia groves, Alder Creek has giant sequoias in all age classes. By removing some of the smaller non-sequoia trees and reintroducing frequent, low-intensity fire, we can both reduce fire risk and help perpetuate the next generation of giant sequoias.
A LIVING LABORATORY
We’ve learned a lot about giant sequoias and the ecosystems they support, but there’s still so much to learn! Among the most important uses of Alder Creek is for research—it is a living laboratory for studying the plants and animals that call Alder Creek home. Save the Redwoods League conducts research on the property and opens opportunities for research to other nonprofits and academic institutions.
In 2021, the League partnered with UC Cooperative Extension in a long-term study to understand different planting densities of giant sequoia seedlings and restoration methods following high-severity wildfire. This research will ultimately inform our ongoing stewardship of the property and stewardship of other sequoia groves throughout the range.
THE GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT
Our national parks and monument systems were created to ensure our natural treasures are protected and shared. Save the Redwoods League believes that a landscape as important as Alder Creek should be both safeguarded and made available for public access.
After a period of stewardship, the League intends to transfer the property to the USDA Forest Service, which manages the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The monument includes over 328,000 acres, including 45% of the total giant sequoias in existence. It surrounds the Alder Creek property, making it a natural future home for the property. After transferring the land to the USDA Forest Service, Sequoia National Forest will take over the stewardship of Alder Creek. The USDA Forest Service would then seamlessly incorporate the stewardship and public access infrastructure of the property under the guidelines outlined in the general planning documents of the monument, which prioritizes protection of giant sequoias, wildfire risk reduction, watershed protection, habitat enhancement for threatened species, and recreational opportunities.
Prior to the inclusion of the property into the Giant Sequoia National Monument, the League will conduct stewardship activities designed to improve the overall ecological health of the property. We will also create public access and recreation infrastructure to facilitate visitation to this special place, while protecting the natural resources that make Alder Creek so special.
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