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Land and Stewardship Project Manager
Virtually all Save the Redwoods League endeavors involve partnerships involving a wide range of stakeholders and agencies. That can be challenging, acknowledges Christine Aralia, the League’s Land and Stewardship Manager — but interacting with project partners is also one of the most satisfying aspects of her job.
Aralia’s job is helping translate the League’s grand vision of preserving, connecting and restoring the redwood forest into practical and effective policies and actions; in short, she works to ensure the dream becomes real. After earning her degree in Natural Resource Planning from Humboldt State University, she worked as a Humboldt County planner for six years, helping guide the development of the county’s beach and dunes management plan.
“I learned a lot as a county planner, but my first love was always the redwood forest,” says Aralia. “I took canopy biology from Professor Steve Sillett, who did the seminal research on redwood canopy ecology and developed many of the techniques now used for climbing and studying tall trees. Climbing up into the canopies of old-growth redwoods and seeing those self-contained ecological systems up close was incredibly exciting, so I’m thrilled to be able to continue my commitment to the redwood forest through my work for the League.”
Aralia originally was hired as the Stewardship Manager for the League, “but I saw a need for seamless integration within phases of land projects so that role morphed into my current position.”
Much of Aralia’s current efforts are centered on the northern coast of California, and ensuring that projects are seamlessly integrated. . The League is working in close partnership with the National Park Service to fund, design and build a new visitor’s center, restore critical wetland habitat for imperiled Coho salmon, restore forest habitat, and improve trails, culverts and bridges.
The visitor’s center will include a traditional Yurok village, which will be used by tribal members for ceremonial purposes, including dances. The Yuroks have inhabited the coastal portions of what are now Humboldt and Del Norte Counties for thousands of years, and maintain a rich and vital culture that includes traditional religious observances and subsistence fishing and hunting.
“Working with the Yurok Tribe has been both an honor and deeply gratifying,” says Aralia. “One of the areas we’re exploring together is the role of Homo sapiens in the natural landscape. Are we part of nature, or are we separate from it? Certainly, the European construct is that we’re removed from nature, that untrammeled wilderness has no appropriate place for human beings. The Yurok see things differently — that we are part of nature, that natural systems include us. It’s been a fascinating and edifying experience for me.”
In her spare time — what little of it she has, anyway — Aralia enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, skiing and bicycling.
“I bike five miles from my home every day to the ferry terminal in Marin, take the ferry to San Francisco, and then bike to the League’s headquarters,” she observes. “It’s a relief to avoid all the traffic in the bay area.”
Future projects? Aralia says the League is investigating prescribed fire and other landscape-scale tools to achieve restoration goals, and the role of community, tribes, and other partners in accomplishing those goals.
“It’s clear we need to become increasingly ambitious in our approaches to management if we’re going to preserve existing ancient groves and accelerate old-growth characteristics in the hundreds of thousands of acres of younger forest now in our purview,” Aralia says. “We have to be innovative as well as dedicated.”
Director of Science
As an experienced redwood ecologist, part of Emily Burns’ job is discovering the myriad components that compose the redwood forest and deciphering the ways they interlock and support each other.
“It’s a privilege to work with researchers from around the country to discover the fundamentals of redwood forest health and apply this knowledge to saving the redwoods. In partnership with Professor Stephen Sillett at Humboldt State University, we are learning astounding facts about how resilient both coast redwood and giant sequoia forests are to climate change. Every new insight we gain through our Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative is teaching the world how critical redwood forests are in the fight against climate and we need these forests more now than ever.”
Burns is the founder of Fern Watch, a study of sword ferns in the redwood forest. The project grew out of a 2007 study of redwood ecosystem understory plants. During that work, she found that several plants were able to absorb water through their leaves in a process known as foliar uptake. Sword ferns were particularly sensitive to moisture, quickly expanding or contracting in mass in response to available water, including fog. Burns realized that sword ferns could thus be a superb indicator of climate change in forest systems.
“Fern lineage is older than the redwoods, and yet they receive little attention,” says Burns. “I’m fascinated by the ways these ancient plants persist in the shadow of the tallest trees on the planet. We’re learning that they’re sensitive to droughts and other shifting environmental factors, so they’re excellent harbingers of climate change. By understanding them, we can understand possible scenarios for the redwood forest, and plan our forest stewardship accordingly.”
Burns also heads the League’s Vibrant Forests Plan, a science-driven conservation planning tool that uses data to inform where and how to protect and connect existing forest reserves, restore degraded forests, and encourage the public to visit redwood parks. Though implemented on the landscape scale, the plan will evaluate assets and challenges for each property, defining specific priorities and customizing courses of action. The Vibrant Forests Plan reflects both the League’s historic mission and the best available science; it is also resilient in its application and will adapt to changing geophysical and sociopolitical realities over the coming years.
“We realized we needed a decision-making tool that was both based on hard data and flexible in its application,” says Burns. “Under the plan, we have three primary goals. The first is the creation of an ecologically robust network of coast redwood and giant sequoia lands at the regional, watershed and individual property scales. The second is prioritizing forest restoration projects to buffer established reserves, accelerate old-growth characteristics in young forests, increase carbon sequestration and enhance wildlife habitat. And the third is to optimize visitation and recreation in the redwood parks in ways that are compatible with natural resource protection and forest restoration.”
Burns joined Save the Redwoods League in 2010. She serves on the League’s executive leadership team and directs the Research Program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative and the Redwood Genome Project. In addition, she directs the League’s Restoration, Stewardship, and Conservation Planning Programs to be grounded in science and practical to help forest managers. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Plant Biology from the University of California, Davis. She is a Research Associate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she is the recipient of the 2013 Women in Science Frameshifter Award from St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, MN. Burns contributes frequently to the League’s blog, and in her scant spare time, she enjoys embroidering, particularly designs of native plants of redwood forests.
Forestry Program Manager
Some people draft policy, others apply it, but Richard Campbell, the Forestry Program Manager for Save the Redwoods League, combines both endeavors.
Currently, Campbell is in charge of overseeing the League’s fee and conservation easement properties, and he’s the organization’s point person for Redwoods Rising, a collaborative, large-scale forest restoration project involving Redwood National and State Parks. In his role, he helps champion the League’s efforts to protect existing old-growth trees, accelerate mature characteristics in younger forests, and connect wildland properties of critical value.
With a background in both ecological theory and commercial forestry, Campbell emphasizes the necessity of active management in achieving restoration goals. He observes that virtually all of America’s forests – including the coast redwood and giant sequoia forests – have endured major impacts from human activity, including logging, fragmentation, excessive development and invasive species introduction. Significant portions of these timberlands can be restored, says Campbell, but that will require intensive and ongoing management.
“Many of these forests are overstocked, meaning they are supporting more trees than can be sustained long-term,” he says. “Further, many of the trees that have grown up in harvested redwood forests are simply the wrong kind, such as tanoak. Overstocked forests are vulnerable to catastrophic wildlife, and both overstocking and an overabundance of undesirable trees delay and even prevent forests – from achieving old-growth characteristics.”
Effective restoration, then, typically requires tree removal. But unlike the wholesale clear-cut logging of the past, such highly selective, conservation-oriented harvesting accelerates the development of old-growth forest characteristics, makes woodlands more resistant to wildfire, increases wildlife and native plant diversity, and can increase stream flows, benefiting indigenous fish.
“Also, conservation-based harvest results in significant quantities of merchantable timber that can be used to offset the costs of restoration projects,” Campbell says. “Forest restoration is capital intensive, and the costs can’t be borne by conservation organizations alone.”
The guiding principles of forest restoration apply to commercial forests as well as protected lands, emphasizes Campbell. Applying this ethos, Campbell is working with allied non-profit groups on San Vicente Redwoods near Santa Cruz, a fuel-reduction initiative on commercial timberlands. Part of this effort, Campbell says, includes designing timber harvest plans that conform to League forest management goals.
“We understand that having big machines in the woods on a periodic basis isn’t necessarily what people expect in a protected area, but it works for the betterment of the forest,” he observes. “Ultimately, we’ll end up with a forest that is more resistant to catastrophic fire, manifests more old-growth characteristics, is more resilient in response to climate change, and contains greater biodiversity.”
Campbell holds a Master’s degree in Forestry from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Chicago.
Director of Government Affairs and Public Funding
Shelana deSilva has spent a more than a decade in the fundraising sphere, working for organizations such as the Trust for Public Land. Her mission for the League is twofold: securing public grants to fund the League’s ongoing work in acquisitions, restoration, education and research, and developing advocacy programs for government outreach. She’s hard pressed to determine which aspect of her job is more challenging.
“We’re involved in a wide range of projects, from building a visitor’s center at Redwood National and State Parks to landscape-scale restoration initiatives,” says deSilva, “and each project requires its own funding portfolio. So at any given time I’m working on a suite of grant proposals, matching each one with its most appropriate project, tracking each one’s progress. A significant portion of my work is dedicated to obtaining support from state bonds and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. It’s not a file-and-forget process. Grant proposals need to be monitored intensely — almost nurtured, really.”
Engagement with policy makers also is part of deSilva’s mandate; she acknowledges it’s an aspect of her job that has become more complicated with the advent of the Trump administration.
“It’s no secret that the new administration is focusing on undoing major policies on health care, education and the environment, and some of these issues, of course, fall within our sphere of interest,” says deSilva. “We’re deeply concerned, for example, about the executive order to review 27 national monuments, one of which is the Giant Sequoia National Monument.”
Environmental groups and conservancies are adopting different tactics in response to the Trump administration, deSilva observes.
“Some are opting for direct confrontation and legal action. Our executive team has determined that the best path for the League is to work with federal officials on specific projects if our goals are advanced, and focus on our long-term mission of protecting, restoring, and connecting people to the redwood forest. That’s the framework for our Centennial Vision policy platform, and it will guide our work through the next century.”
DeSilva spends as much of her free time as possible exploring the outdoors.
“I hike, bike, camp and surf,” she says. “The more time I spend outside, the happier I am. I’m also deeply involved in climate change issues. That’s one of the reasons I accepted a position with Save the Redwoods League. The League’s emphasis on using natural landscapes as a climate change response mechanism is highly innovative, and I think it’ll prove effective.”
Senior Manager of Land Protection
Catherine Elliott spent much of her career as a regulator on forestry and environmental issues, and she considers that experience invaluable in her current role.
“Relationships in this line of work can become both close and nuanced,” observes Catherine Elliott, the Senior Manager of Land Protection for Save the Redwood League. “The favorite part of my job is getting to know the landowners who become our partners in preservation. Many have forestry backgrounds, but they come from all walks of life. I learn a lot from working with them, and it’s great getting to know them.”
Landowners differ in opinion on conservation issues, says Elliott, but she observes most share a common bond.
“They know their land, and they have a deep and abiding love for it,” she says. “They want to preserve and enhance it, and that’s why they to choose to work with the League.”
As an example, Elliott cites her work with an old-growth redwood mill in Mendocino County. The League recently partnered with the mill to save 400 acres of old-growth redwoods along the Noyo River.
“The company had purchased the parcel and was planning to log it,” recalls Elliott. “We didn’t take a position on their timber harvest plan when we began negotiations because if we had stood against all logging, it would’ve just stopped the negotiations. We were interested in determining if they were willing to sell the property, so that’s where we started the conversation.”
Elliott says the mill’s executives were open to the possibility of a land sale and were forthright and honorable in their negotiations.
“They were very gracious and open,” Elliott says. “Eventually we were able to purchase the property, which has since been transferred to the Mendocino Land Trust for management. No cutting is allowed except for forest restoration and fire protection. It was an agreement that worked for everyone, and we established a wonderful relationship in the process.”
Old-growth forest acquisition and preservation remains a priority for Elliott, but her mission also has expanded to a broader purview.
“With 95 percent of the old-growth redwoods already cut, our vision and methods will change for the League’s second hundred years,” says Elliott. “We’re looking to acquire or establish conservation easements on properties that will buffer and connect old-growth forests, and we’re working on restoration programs to accelerate old-growth characteristics in younger forests. I’m excited about working on the landscape-scale projects that these goals require.”
Elliott spent much of her career as a regulator on forestry and environmental issues, and she considers that experience invaluable in her current role.
“That’s essential work, and I respect it deeply,” she says. “But I’ve spent ten years with the League, and I’ve become tremendously invested in the collaborative process that’s our hallmark. It can be extremely effective simply because it’s not adversarial. The whole point is to look for mutually beneficial solutions, rather than a zero-sum win, and I find that incredibly satisfying and inspiring. In the most basic terms, I just like discovering common ground with people.”
President and CEO
Sam Hodder, the President and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, takes the long view on his role and blends it with the urgency of the moment. That’s appropriate, given his mandate of protecting redwoods – some of the oldest living things on the planet, which stand today because people like Hodder were determined to protect them over the last 100 years.
“The League is lucky to have one of the best reputations and strongest staffs in the conservation world,” he says. “Our scientists are conducting cutting-edge research in the redwood forest; our land team is advancing a transformational portfolio of complex land transactions to protect ancient redwoods and the younger recovering forests that will sustain them; our stewardship team is in the field accelerating the regeneration of formerly logged redwood stands; and our education team is bringing redwood science into urban classrooms, and urban students into redwood parks. They all are doing important work at a critical time, and my job is to make sure that that they have what they need to get it done.”
Since joining the League, Hodder has lead the team in the permanent protection of more than 20,000 acres of redwood lands and the implementation of ambitious forest restoration projects. He has guided the development of the League’s Centennial Vision, a bold 100-year plan to accelerate forest conservation and the regeneration of coast redwood and giant sequoia forests across their range and to dramatically enhance visitor experience in the redwood parks. He has further advanced the League’s Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, a project that has led to pioneering research on the unique ecosystems thriving in the old-growth redwood canopy. Hodder also has provided greater focus the League’s investment in educational programs and redwood park public access improvements.
Hodder grew up in New England and spent much of his boyhood exploring the trails of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. While studying at Princeton University, he worked summers on trail crews for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.
“Ever since my first summer job building hiking trails, I have been inspired by the role of accessible open space in our communities,” says Hodder. “The White Mountains are the wilderness playground for the cities of the northeast, and every summer the trails fill with Cub Scout troops, inner city camping programs and pavement-weary families from all walks of life.”
“As we worked the trails each summer, there was a nearly constant stream of hikers wandering past in the midst of an experience they would never forget,” Hodder continued. “I was proud to have a hand in getting people to these beautiful places and to feel connected to that collective experience. As a country, we have worked hard to set aside special places for all of us to share. From city parks to national wilderness areas, we have made a choice in the ‘democratization’ of natural beauty because, quite simply, time spent in the wonder of the outdoors makes our lives better. It makes our communities stronger, our families happier, our life experiences richer and our bodies healthier.”
After graduation, Hodder sought work in land conservation, working at the Trust for Public Land (TPL) for the next 22 years and ultimately serving as TPL’s Maine State Director and California State Director. He joined Save the Redwoods League as President and CEO in 2013.
As he shepherds Save the Redwoods League into its second century, Hodder feels fortunate to have found a career that aligns so completely with the things he cares most about. He spends much of his free time exploring the wildlands of the West with his wife, Kendra, and their four sons, and he takes great pride in that, together with his colleagues at Save the Redwoods League past, present and future, he has played a role in saving our most special places.
“Spending time in nature is transformative,” Hodder says. “Whether on the forested trails of the White Mountains or the standing among the mighty ancient redwoods, you come out a better person. We need these places now more than ever, and there is no more fulfilling challenge than ensuring that future generations will have the benefit of a thriving, resilient redwood forest to inspire them.”
Parks Program Manager
Jessica Inwood typically works with Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) staff on multiple projects at any given time, shuttling between properties from the Oregon border to Big Sur, and east to the Sierra.
“California’s state parks are foundational to our mission,” says Jessica Inwood, the League’s Parks Program Manager. “They not only protect thousands of acres of coast redwoods and giant sequoia, but they’re also the primary public gateway to the redwood forest. People connect to the redwoods through state parks, and those connections build future constituencies.”
Inwood typically works with DPR staff on multiple projects at any given time, shuttling between properties from the Oregon border to Big Sur, and east to the Sierra.
“I’m on the road a lot,” she says. “Right now I have five active projects. That includes working with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park staff to rebuild the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, which was burned out in a 2008 wildfire. One portion of the trail is finished, and we’re currently drawing up plans for a 70-foot bridge that will span some extremely rugged terrain. It’s so steep that we may have to fly in the sections by helicopter.”
The League also is partnering with DPR and the Mountain Parks Foundation to update the interpretative displays at the nature museum in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, says Inwood.
“I also devote a lot of time to our Free Redwoods Days initiative,” Inwood says. “On occasion, we have sponsored free passes to more than 40 redwood state parks to encourage people to connect to the redwood parks for the first time or to renew their love of them. The results far exceeded our expectations, which were high for these events. This is an incredibly effective way to connect people with public open spaces, and we think it’ll become a powerful tool for building support for state parks generally, and the redwood parks in particular.”
Inwood enjoys backpacking and hiking, and she is a devoted soccer enthusiast.
“I play in a co-ed league in Alameda,” she says with a rueful laugh, “and I recently realized that everyone I play with is younger than me. It didn’t use to be that way.”
But it’s hardly all fun and games for Inwood, even during her spare time. She’s the founder of the Asla Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships to children in Nicaragua.
“I was in the Peace Corps from 2000 to 2002, and I found that most kids in my area only go to school through sixth grade,” Inwood says. “Their families simply can’t afford additional education. So I started a program in 2001 to help some kids further their educations, and it grew from there. We incorporated as a nonprofit in 2009, and we’re funding 120 scholarships this year. Kids who are beneficiaries have to participate in community service, so they help others while they receive help.”
Restoration Project Manager
As the Restoration Project Manager for Redwoods Rising, Rosalind faces a monumental challenge: healing the redwood forest. “Monumental” shouldn’t be confused with “daunting,” however. Rosalind has no doubt that she and her colleagues are up to the task.
Rosalind is trained to think in terms of the Big Picture. After taking her Bachelor’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis on landscape ecosystems at Humboldt State University, she was hired as an environmental planner by a local geology firm. While working full time, she also commuted from Humboldt County to the University of San Francisco to pursue a graduate degree. After completing her Master’s in environmental management, she joined the California Department of Transportation, where she worked on planning, permitting, and environmental compliance under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Multiple strategies will be employed in fulfilling the Redwoods Rising mission, says Rosalind, including mechanical thinning, the judicious use of prescription fire, the removal of invasive vegetation, the retirement of eroding roads and culverts, and riparian rehabilitation.
“It’s exciting to be part of this project, both because of its scale and its ultimate goal,” says Rosalind. “It basically asks, ‘What’s best for the redwood forest?’ It then identifies the means to achieve that end, and moves forward with implementation.”
Rosalind notes, however, that Redwoods Rising isn’t just about accelerating old-growth qualities in younger forests as expeditiously as possible.
“You have to think of it from a larger ecological perspective,” she says. “It’s really not a single project–it’s a variety of initiatives that combine to create a healthy, resilient forest system. It’s about identifying specific broken ecological processes, and determining how to fix them…”
Moreover, says Rosalind, Redwoods Rising represents a new perspective on environmental rehabilitation. It’s a collaborative approach that leverages the expertise and resources of multiple partners, applying them to a truly regional scale.
“Ultimately, that means you can have a really dramatic, positive impact,” Rosalind says. “Moreover, I think the Redwoods Rising model should translate well to other areas and other ecosystems.”
For Rosalind, Humboldt County is more than a working venue. She was struck by the beauty of the region while attending Humboldt State University, and she found she had no real desire to leave after graduation.
“I was determined to stay here,” she says, “and my resolve only strengthened when I had children. One is three now, and one’s almost a year. I found that being a parent kind of sets you up for the same skills you need as a project manager. You need to have patience and the ability to deal with emergencies quickly and efficiently. The one difference is that professionals–unlike toddlers–typically don’t yell at each other.”
Redwoods Rising Fellow
If there is magic on this planet, Loren Eiseley wrote, then it is contained in water. That sentiment, certainly, is shared by Save the Redwoods League Redwoods Rising Fellow Matthew Morassutti. Matthew grew up in Ontario, where he spent as much time as possible on the province’s numerous lakes.
Matthew took his Bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University in Bellingham, with a focus on hydrology and water quality monitoring. After graduating in 2015, he worked a variety of jobs, including two years of public service with AmeriCorps. In the first year of his service, he worked with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, conducting monitoring projects in the state’s marine and freshwater reserves. In his second year, he was a member of the Watershed Stewards Program, and spent his term at Redwood National and State Parks, working on salmonid enhancement and restoration throughout the complex’s watersheds.
“I was mentored by geologist Vicki Ozaki, hydrologist Rachel Truesdell, and GIS specialist Judy Wartella, concentrating particularly on Prairie Creek, Lost Man Creek, Little Lost Man Creek, and Strawberry Creek,” says Matthew. “Those watersheds experienced severe impacts from logging prior to park protection, and coho salmon and steelhead populations went into steep decline. But there have been ambitious restoration programs implemented since then, and the runs are starting to rebound. It’s really heartening.”
Matthew also taught a six-week curriculum on watershed stewardship at local North Coast schools during his second year with AmeriCorps.
“A partner and I taught at five K-8 classes,” Matthew recalls. “I went from thinking I couldn’t teach, that I couldn’t even interact well with kids, to a high degree of confidence. As part of the program, my partner and I had to recruit 30 volunteers for a day of restoration work. The results exceeded our expectations–we ended up with 67 volunteers, and we spent a really productive day at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area in Redwood National Park removing invasive plants and replacing them with native species.”
Matthew says one of his goals as a League Fellow is to refine the communication skills he developed during his term with the Watershed Stewards Program, applying them to the Redwoods Rising mission.
“Redwoods Rising is a highly collaborative process, with participants from the League, the National Park Service, and California State Parks,” Matthew says. “To facilitate that process, you need interpersonal as well as technical skills. So I’m really looking forward to working with our partners on this groundbreaking effort–restoration of the redwood forest on a landscape scale. It’s a fantastic opportunity, one most people my age don’t get.”
The redwood forests aren’t just redwoods, of course; they are complex networks of organisms living in harmony, creating biological sums that are far greater than their individual parts. For an aquatic ecosystem enthusiast like Matthew, salmon are a particularly fascinating element in these vast symbiotic webs.
“The more you work with salmon, the more you understand their importance to redwood ecosystems,” Matthew observes. “They’re extremely efficient vectors for moving marine nutrients into the forest. Every year, salmon runs transport big blocks of nitrogen deep into the watersheds, where they help sustain everything from the redwoods to aquatic insects and the birds that feed off the insects, such as American dippers.”
Matthew’s avocations are mostly oriented to the outdoors, but he also enjoys cooking. His sister had intense allergies, so the family took virtually all their meals at home, and he learned the value of competent and creative food preparation.
“Also, my grandparents were in Europe during World War II, and they suffered deep privations,” says Matthew. “I learned to both love and respect food from them, to never take it for granted. Maybe there’s some epigenetic influence at play there.”
Chief Program Officer
Paul Ringgold has been an outdoor enthusiast his entire life, and about 10 years ago he and his wife took a hike. It was through a particularly beautiful part of California — an ancient redwood forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, to be exact. And as the couple strolled among the behemoth trees, Ringgold felt a certain longing.
Luckily for Save the Redwoods League, those ambitions have been realized. Ringgold has worked in conservation and land management for more than 30 years, serving as a Forest Policy Analyst for the Pinchot Institute of Conservation, a Forest Manager and Research Program Director for the University of Washington, and the Vice President of Land Stewardship for the Peninsula Open Space Trust. As the League’s Chief Program Officer, he oversees all land conservation transactions, land stewardship and management activities, forest restoration programs, public funding and policy engagement, park support, as well as education and interpretive programs. He also establishes specific priorities for the breadth of the League’s programs.
“At this point, my interests have come back full circle to forest management and conservation,” Ringgold says. “I started my career as a forester in the Pacific Northwest. And while I deeply enjoyed my subsequent work in research, policy and land conservation, which included rangelands and farms as well as timberlands, I’ve felt this deep pull to reorient to forests — the redwood forest in particular.”
Ringgold is particularly excited to work with Save the Redwoods League as the organization prepares to celebrate its Centennial. The League, he observes, is launching a bold set of initiatives that will both honor its historic mission and expand its purview to meet the challenges of climate change and accelerating natural resource demands.
“In the coming years, we’re going to have to both balance demands among stakeholders and prioritize among our own efforts,” says Ringgold. “That doesn’t mean compromise — ultimately, the restoration and ongoing preservation of the coast redwood and giant sequoia forests throughout their ranges remains our immutable goal. But how and when we get there is of paramount importance. We have to be as smart in the way we approach the challenges of the coming century as our founders were in addressing the pressing issues of the League’s early decades.”
Ringgold holds a Master’s degree in Forest Policy and Rural Sociology from Yale University and a Bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources Management from the University of Washington. In addition to his work at the League, he serves as the Advisory Council Chair of the Bay Area Open Space Council.
Kristen Shive grew up in a suburb of Chicago, taking her BA in English and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But after graduating, Shive found that a career – or further study – in a liberal arts field didn’t really appeal to her. “I wanted to do something else,” she recalls. “Something related to the environment, to natural resources.”
“I worked at the visitor center just after the park lost a prescribed burn,” recalls Shive. “Many homes were lost as a result. That event got me extremely interested in wildfires and prescribed burning. Why were they doing it? What were the benefits? Most burns, I discovered, went off without a hitch, but as I saw at Bandelier, there could also be some risks. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became.”
Shive had, in short, discovered both her passion and her life’s work. After a decade of working in National Parks in various positions related to fire management, she took a Master’s degree in Forestry with an emphasis on fire ecology at Northern Arizona University and a PhD in environmental science – again focusing on wildfire– from the University of California, Berkeley. Halfway through her PhD, she took a position as the Fire Ecologist for Yosemite National Park. She was hired as a Senior Scientist by Save the Redwoods League in May, 2018.
Shive’s mission at the League is the preservation and restoration of giant sequoia and coast redwood ecosystems; given her resume, it’s no coincidence that prescribed fire will figure significantly into her work.
“Both coast redwood and giant sequoia are fire-adapted species, but fire is especially critical for the health of giant sequoia groves,” Shive says.
Shive notes that giant sequoias are “serotinous,” meaning they require heat, such as that created by wildfire, to release seeds from their cones.
“The seeds also germinate best on bare soil and the saplings need fairly open canopies to thrive,” says Shive. “Both conditions are best provided by fire.”
In order for the League to accomplish its mission of protecting giant sequoias, it will also need to protect and restore the mixed conifer forests that surround them. Prior to European contact, observes Shive, the mixed conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada burned periodically from both lightning strikes and the activities of native inhabitants. As a result, the forest was more open and fuel loads were relatively low. Wildfires were primarily surface fires with smaller pockets of complete tree morality. In contrast, after over a century of fire suppression and a demonstrably warming climate, today’s fires burn with far greater intensity than they did historically, resulting in much larger areas of complete tree mortality. To reclaim the vitality and resilience of these forests, says Shive, it’s necessary to reintroduce fire to the landscape.
“In addition to giant sequoia, many other species benefit from fire,” Shive says. “The bare mineral soil and more open canopies created by fire encourage sugar pine and ponderosa pine regeneration, along with a diversity of understory plants. Fire also creates ecological heterogeneity across the landscape, as different areas burn hotter or cooler, and different parts of the landscape burn in different years. It really creates a mosaic of habitats. Fire has always been an essential factor in healthy Sierra Nevada ecosystems, but restoring fire to fire-adapted ecosystems is especially important in creating resilient forests in an era of climate change. Wildfires are expected to become more frequent as the climate continues to warm, and extended droughts are likely to become the norm. Though giant sequoias are very resilient to wildfires due to their thick bark, the combination of drought stress and fuel accumulation in fire-suppressed forests could result in more mortality than we would expect if a wildfire burned in a restored forest.”
Shive currently is assessing the status of Red Hill Grove, a magnificent tract of old-growth giant sequoias and associated conifers located along the South Fork of the Tule River in the southern Sierra.
“Red Hill Grove is a particularly important property because it’s a private holding within the boundaries of Giant Sequoia National Monument,” says Shive. “The League eventually hopes to transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service, allowing it to be integrated with monument’s forest management plan.”
Though Red Hill Grove’s giant sequoias have been protected assiduously over the past four decades by the owners of the property, the Nicholas family, heavy fuel loads are an issue of concern, Shive says. In addition to nearly a century of woody debris accumulating on the forest floor, the recent multi-year drought killed hundreds of pine trees on the property. Eventually these trees will fall and further increase surface fuels and elevate fire risk.
“Among the first things we’ll consider are options for fuel reduction,” Shive says. “Prescribed fire is certainly warranted for Red Hill Grove, but we can’t do any burning until we deal with all the dead and standing timber. It’s probable a lot of dead trees will have to be felled and transported away from the site.”
Red Hill Grove’s situation can be applied to mixed conifer forests across the entire Sierra – and ultimately, to many other dry conifer forests of the interior West, says Shive. As the pressures imposed by a changing climate and development increase, flexible and science-based management plans that include the reintroduction of fire must be devised to foster greater forest resilience in fire-adapted forests.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about my new position with Save the Redwoods League,” Shive says. “The League is not only such a strong advocate for the preservation of coast redwoods and giant sequoias – it’s committed to cutting-edge research, allowing us to pursue and support science-based forest management. I’m proud to be part of that mission.”
Education and Interpretation Manager
Deborah Zierten’s mission is educational outreach, both in the schools and the redwood parks.
“The best way to reach adults with our message is to inspire them when they’re children,” says Deborah Zierten, the League’s Education and Interpretation Manager. “Children find redwoods fascinating – thrilling, even! We don’t have to convince them of their importance. They’re so often captivated by the forests’ beauty and grandeur, and they understand the importance intuitively when they’re presented with the facts.”
Zierten’s mission, then, is educational outreach, both in the schools and the redwood parks.
“We need to do both,” she observes. “The schools offer our best opportunity for replicable programs across the entire redwood range. For high schools, we provide a redwood forest program that ties into climate change and carbon sequestration. Our curricula are locally focused, so that kids can conduct hands-on research almost literally in their backyards.”
The League also has an elementary school program, Explore Your Watershed, Zierten says.
“We take students on field trips to redwood forests in the upper reaches of their local watershed and to the San Francisco Bay,” she says. “They’re taught how it all is connected, and how the health and integrity of the coast redwood forest can ultimately affect water quality in the Bay. For many of these kids, our field trips provide their first visit to a forest. It’s incredibly moving to watch them becoming engaged with the redwoods, to see them explore the connections between critical natural systems.”
Such youthful enthusiasm is infectious, Zierten notes, and that’s an essential factor in redwood conservation outreach.
“A truism in this work is that you teach the kids to reach the parents,” Zierten says. “When your kids develop an intense interest, you inevitably end up sharing it.”
Zierten also provides professional development to docents in California’s redwood parks to inform them of the latest findings in redwood research
“The parks, of course, are the best possible venues for educating people about the redwood forest,” Zierten says. “Park visitors are already in a receptive frame of mind – they want to know more about the redwood forest, and what they can do to protect it. We want to make sure there are people on the ground who can answer their questions, enhance their experiences and engage them directly in redwood conservation.”
Part of that task involves direct training of docents and park staff, “we also ensure that the parks have access to the tremendous body of research produced by League scientists,” says Zierten. “We help the parks find innovative ways to communicate about redwood conservation with the public.”
Zierten grew up in Oakland and spent much of her free time exploring the expansive redwood parks of the East Bay. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Oregon and her Master’s degree in environmental education at Southern Oregon University.
“I love Oregon,” she says, “but I’m glad to be back in the Bay Area. The redwood forest is where I feel most at home and where my heart is.”