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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.
As the Conservation Analyst for Save the Redwoods League, Peter Cowan is responsible for integrating scientific research and data into the League’s conservation and restoration planning.
Along with the VFP, Cowan contributes to numerous other League projects, including Centennial Vision, a declaration of the League’s milestones for its second century, and Fern Watch, a long-term study of redwood forest-associated ferns as indicators of climate change. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Cowan spends much of his free time exploring California’s redwood parks.
“I grew up in southern Michigan, which like California has an extensive history of logging, so I really didn’t have much exposure to old-growth forests,” he says. “Hiking from the ridgeline to the Pacific Ocean through the ancient redwoods of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, not only left in me awe of the redwoods but also with a deep appreciation for the conservationists who have come before us.”
Cowan joined the League in 2016 after working as a consultant for Fern Watch. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied fire ecology and evolution in California chaparral. He also holds a Master’s degree in Biological Sciences from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kalamazoo College.
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 Government Affairs and Public Funding
A stand of old-growth redwoods may be a citadel of tranquility, evoking the deep and immutable rhythms of nature, but chances are that the efforts it took to preserve that grove were anything but serene and relaxed. Redwood conservation can be a challenging process, requiring the raising of large sums of money and months — years, even — of political negotiation and maneuvering. It takes a special kind of person for that work, and Save the Redwoods League is lucky to have found the right candidate in Shelana deSilva.
“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.”