Follow the money…to your favorite redwood forest

How state conservancies and bond funding protect public lands in California

A man looks tiny as he stands between two massive giant sequoia trees in a green forest backed by mountains
Save the Redwoods League has leveraged more than $32 million in bond funding for vital projects such as giant sequoia restoration at Alder Creek. Photo by Max Forster, @maxforsterphotography.

Spectacular. Breathtaking. Transcendent. These are the phrases people often utter while exploring an ancient grove of giant sequoias or a lush swath of second-growth coast redwoods. It’s the rare visitor who gazes at the sun-dappled splendor of a redwood forest and exclaims, “Ah, bond dollars!”  

Yet understanding the funding that lies behind our protected public lands is crucial knowledge for anyone wishing to see these natural treasures preserved and expanded. The fact is that California’s most prized landscapes—our beaches, mountains, deserts, and, of course, our redwood forests—were secured in large part by taxpayer dollars. Every time you frolic on a sandy public beach, follow a state coastal trail, fish in a restored trout stream, or hike through a protected redwood grove, it’s likely that you have a prior voter-approved bond to thank.    

Channeling bond dollars to forest projects

O Rew
Yurok crews work to restore a 1,000-foot section of Prairie Creek for salmon-rearing habitat—a project supported by conservancy funding. Photo by CalTrout/Michael Wier.

Channeling that bond funding into land protection and restoration projects on the ground is where the state conservancies come in. The state’s 10 conservancies are housed within the California Natural Resources Agency, the agency charged with restoring, protecting, and managing the Golden State’s vast natural, historical, and cultural resources. Both the Wildlife Conservation Board and State Coastal Conservancy operate under this CNRA umbrella. So do eight other conservancies focused on specific geographical areas, such as the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and California Tahoe Conservancy.  

Ever since the creation of the State Coastal Conservancy in 1976, California’s conservancies have understood the importance of safeguarding our coast redwood and giant sequoia forests for future generations, and have partnered with Save the Redwoods League and other organizations on dozens of projects. Though private philanthropy is a key driver of the League’s conservation work, conservancy funding has consistently provided a bedrock of support. In the last decade alone, we have leveraged more than $32 million from the state conservancies for vital projects such as Alder Creek, Redwoods Rising, San Vicente Redwoods, and the restoration of Prairie Creek at ‘O Rew.  

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the conservancies to our current efforts to protect and restore California’s redwood forest,” says Suzanne Moss, League director of public and institutional funding. “And as the work of the League and the conservancies has become so intertwined with the fight against climate change, this partnership has grown even stronger.”  

The current opportunity to back climate resilience

Indeed, the role of the state conservancies has become essential as California seeks to build critical resilience in the face of accelerating climate threats. The state recently doubled down on its innovative 30×30 Strategy to protect 30% of the state’s land and water by 2030. The strategy leans into the power of natural landscapes to sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere, buffer local communities, and provide critical habitat for wildlife. But such ambitious initiatives rely on public funding—and the state conservancies are running out of money.   

All of which brings us to back to bond dollars, and the reason Save the Redwoods League and a broad coalition of conservation organizations have been working to get a $15 billion Climate Resilience Bond on the 2024 ballot. In the face of proposed cuts to California’s climate budget, such a bond would ensure dedicated funding for resilience efforts regardless of year-to-year budget fluctuations. Bond dollars would then flow into the state conservancies, reviving their power to fund programs that safeguard clean air and water, protect public lands and wildlife, and reduce the risk of flooding, storms, and wildfires.  

It isn’t difficult to imagine the positive impact on California’s local communities and public lands, today and tomorrow. You can almost hear the thank-you’s of future visitors as they explore a stunning redwood forest, knowing past voters had their back. 


Read more highlights from the Spring-Summer 2024 Edition online.

About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

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