Meet our experts
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Director of Land Protection
Becky Bremser, Save the Redwoods League’s new Director of Land Protection, grew up in West Bend, Wisconsin, right along the Milwaukee River.
The manufacturer of that kitchenware decamped in 2003, but West Bend was and remains an exceedingly pleasant place to grow up. Becky recalls a childhood spent almost wholly outdoors.
“We’d always be swimming and fishing on the lakes, catching frogs and crawfish in the streams and poking around in the nearby woods,” she says. “Also, my great-grandparents had a farm outside of town. It was an incredible place, and we never got tired of exploring it.”
When Becky was older, the family decided to sell the farm, and negotiated a sale of part of the property to the city. It was the portion of the farm that contained the best natural, recreational, and historical values, says Becky.
“There are Native American bird effigies on the property, and the city has since built a river boardwalk, miles of trails, and a lighted ballfield complex,” she says. “I was really gratified when the city turned it into a huge park. It’s a tremendous public asset now and a gift my family is very proud of.”
Little did she know, the process that turned her family’s farm into a much beloved public park left a deep impression on her.
“I kept thinking about the old farm as I went through school, and I started feeling that I wanted to work in conservation,” she says. “Saving special places seemed like a good calling.”
After graduating from high school, Becky enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she got her Bachelor of Science degree in conservation biology and environmental studies in 1998. On graduation, she took a giant step–or at least, a long flight–and enrolled in a work exchange program at an eco-resort on St. John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Wisconsin is a wonderful place, but it has extremely long winters,” says Becky, “and by the time I graduated, I was ready to go somewhere warm.”
Becky had been working one month at the resort when Hurricane Georges hit the Virgin Islands. Residents and visitors alike fled St. John at Georges’ approach, and both were slow to return. But for Becky, the storm’s clouds had a decidedly silver lining.
“About 75 percent of St. John is protected by Virgin Islands National Park,” Becky says. “Like a lot of national parks, it has a private sector partner–Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, in this case–whose mission is to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources of the park for people to responsibly enjoy. After Georges, I was fortunate enough to land a job as a program manager with The Friends, and I spent the next four years at that position. I worked on managing special projects for the park, including private inholding acquisitions, and we were successful in securing some extremely important transactions while I was there.”
For some of the more complex deals, The Trust for Public Land was tapped for assistance.
“They have so much experience with land protection acquisitions, along with a deep bench of experts conversant in every aspect of negotiations, conservation, and funding,” she says. “They helped us out on several of the more challenging transactions. I learned a lot from them, and developed a deep respect for what they do.”
That high regard was reciprocated. When Becky moved back to the States, the Trust for Public Land promptly hired her for their St. Petersburg office, where she worked on acquisitions for southwest Florida and the Caribbean.
“I was able to continue to contribute to some spectacular projects, including the Sarasota Legacy Trail,” Becky says. “It’s a 10+ mile biking and hiking trail that runs along the spine of Sarasota County, Florida. TPL bought the land from CSX Railroad and conveyed it to the county. The county has developed a safe, recreational trail that more than 225,000 people use annually”
After 10 years in Florida, Becky took a position as senior project manager based at TPL’s headquarters in San Francisco overseeing the acquisition work in Southern California. Among her favorite projects in California were an expansion of Runyon Canyon Park in the Hollywood Hills and the creation of Kellogg Park in the City of Ventura.
“I’m proud of all the work we did, but Kellogg Park was really important,” says Becky. “Virtually all of Ventura’s parks are on the east side of the city–the city has kind of turned its back on the west side, which lacks all the pricey boutiques and restaurants and is primarily Latinx. So we acquired approximately two acres of property on the west side and developed a beautiful park. Along with increasing environmental equity, we were able to achieve a measure of social justice. We were able to right a wrong.”
Becky spent six years at TPL’s San Francisco office, and then accepted the position of Director of Land Protection for Save the Redwoods League.
“Part of my job will be overseeing the League’s land protection program, including transactions,” says Becky, “but I’ll also be working to integrate land protection goals with all the other programs the League supports, such as Redwoods Rising, the Vibrant Forests Program, and Centennial Vision. The best part of the job is simply knowing that we’re preserving the special places, the places that matter. I’ve always felt that way about this work. I may not get to personally visit all the places the League and our allied organizations protect–but I know that they exist, and that they’re safe. For me, that’s enough.”
Director of Restoration
Some people draft policy, others apply it, but Richard Campbell, the Director of Restoration 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 these young forests now contain different mixtures of the trees than the forest that preceded it. These forests are vulnerable to catastrophic wildlife, and both overstocking and an overabundance of undesirable trees delay and even prevent forests – from becoming the healthy and resilient ancient redwood forests we hope to see.”
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, a working forest and restoration property near Santa Cruz. 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 Parks and Public Engagement
Jessica Carter’s career is grounded in the importance of diversity and inclusion in the great outdoors. In her early work, she managed a program that highlighted leadership and career development in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for underserved teens at Girls Inc. There, she discovered that the simple privilege of experiencing nature can be a game changer for individuals, entire communities, and the planet.
After a decade of growing partnerships to enhance visitor access and programs at Golden Gate National Recreation Area – where she also led partnership development for a $38 million Alcatraz embarkation site and visitor welcome center – she joined Save the Redwoods League as Director of Parks and Public Engagement in 2018. Her expertise in managing nonprofit, commercial, and interagency partnerships is valuable in expanding the League’s parks support, education, interpretation, and public outreach projects.
Carter’s work embodies a critical issue that has been emerging as a key to conservation: engaging communities that have previously been underrepresented in the movement, and possibly even felt excluded from enjoying natural spaces. “As society becomes increasingly ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, everyone must come to appreciate the value of redwood forests to ensure their protection,” Carter says.
And there is, of course, an even bigger picture. She adds, “Bridging equity gaps doesn’t only serve the conservation purpose, but it also plays a key role in the wellness and prosperity of our society at large. I’ve seen how environmental education and access to the outdoors expands confidence, perceptions, and interests, all of which contribute to the foundation of personal success. Redwoods experiences can serve as a great equalizer in this respect, particularly for low-income communities that may not have access to many alternative resources.”
Carter will cultivate the League’s education programs and park projects, such as the future visitor center at Redwood National and State Parks. She’ll be collaborating closely with partners, parks agencies, and indigenous tribes, among others, to define and engage specific audiences in the League’s Centennial Vision, providing more and more people the opportunity to tap into the magic of the redwoods.
“I’ll never forget the first time I went to Muir Woods National Monument after starting my job with the National Park Service. Being surrounded by the majestic redwoods in the deep quiet of the forest was powerful,” Carter says. “In fact, late in my pregnancy with my son, I woke up one morning with a burst of energy and went on a hike through Joaquin Miller and Redwood Regional parks in Oakland, and then promptly went into labor an hour after returning home. So redwoods have a very special place in my life now.”
Director of Government Affairs and Public Funding
Jessica Little joined Save the Redwoods League as Director of Government Affairs and Public Funding in 2020. Little comes to Save the Redwoods League from Environmental & Energy Consulting, a government relations consulting firm based in Sacramento that works closely with the League.
She has been integral to the implementation and development of programs funded through state resources bonds and other funding measures. Little, who is based in Sacramento, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from California State University, Sacramento.
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 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.”
Laura Lalemand grew up in Maine, a state notable for stalwart individualism, a rugged coastline, abundant lobsters, and a vast, forested interior. She loved the place, largely due to the role the outdoors played in her daily life.
That connection to the wild and all the living things in it led her to a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maine at Farmington. After graduating in 2007, she went west, taking a position as a biological science technician with the U.S. Geological Survey. Laura worked on various projects in the Sierra Nevada, northern California, and southern Oregon for the USGS, with much of her effort focused on tree growth, mortality, drought response, and forest restoration. She joined Save the Redwoods League as a forest fellow in 2016 and completed her Master’s degree in Forestry from Humboldt State University in 2018. She was hired as a forest ecologist by the League at that time and is currently working with her colleagues on Redwoods Rising, the seminal and deeply ambitious partnership involving the National Park Service, California State Parks, and the League to restore 120,000 acres of degraded forest in Redwood National and State Parks.
“I’m inspired by the vision of Redwoods Rising, and I’m honored to be a part of it,” Laura says. “This collaboration will allow us to restore forest ecosystems on a landscape scale. More than that, we’re working to accelerate old-growth characteristics in second-growth and third-growth forests. Our work will allow these young, degraded forests to progress to a more dynamic and resilient mature state far sooner than would occur if they were simply left alone. I also see Redwoods Rising as being a model for future collaborations who are working together on integrated, landscape-level restoration and land stewardship.”
“Prescribed fire, or controlled burning, is a valuable tool for forest restoration,” Laura observes. “It allows us to reintroduce the natural process of fire back onto the landscape in a controlled manner, on our terms. Fire is a critical component in many western forests, including redwood forests. I believe it’s essential that we develop healthy relationships with fire, allowing it to fulfill its important, ecological role in fire adapted systems and to assist in fuels reduction and wildfire management.”
“That said,” Laura notes, “every prescribed burn is unique and forest type and structure, terrain, fuel loading, and climatic variables all need to be taken into consideration when developing a successful prescribed burn plan.”
“We also have to address the political and educational aspects,” Laura says. “People need to understand why fire is a valuable restoration tool, and we need to show them how it works. We need to be educators as well as forest managers.”
The best part of her job, says Laura, is that it allows her to contribute to an all-encompassing vision of conservation.
“The League is working toward a convergence of forest conservation, restoration, and land stewardship at the largest possible scale, and I find that incredibly exciting,” she says. “We’re not just working to restore and maintain redwood forests. We’re working to conserve all the associated species that depend on ancient redwoods. We’re integrating in-stream aquatic restoration, road removal and soil stabilization, forest restoration–everything that affects the redwood ecosystems. And we’re doing it as an equal partner with other agencies and groups, collaborating to define and sustain our long-term mission. I find this work very important and satisfying.”
Much of Laura’s spare time is spent enjoying the Humboldt and Del Norte County coastlines and ancient forests.
“I love canoeing, hiking, and just exploring the woods,” she says. “I also enjoy fiber arts, growing and preserving food, raising chickens, ducks, and geese, and connecting with others while building community.”
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.
Director of Science
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 and now serves as Director of Science.
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.”