Guardian of the redwoods


In this second episode, host Emily Harwitz chats with Francisco Saavedra about forestry, how his Yurok heritage informs his forestry practice, who the redwoods are to him, and what he hopes to accomplish as a Guardian of the Redwoods.

Francisco Antonio Saavedra Jr. is a proud, federally enrolled member of the Pit River tribe Madesi Band, with Yurok and El Salvadoran ancestry. He was born and raised in Northern California. Francisco is currently studying tribal forestry at College of the Redwoods and aspires to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Tribal Forestry and Natural Resources from Cal Poly Humboldt. He was a 2023 Redwoods Rising Forestry Apprentice and is returning to apprentice for the 2024 season. Find him on Instagram @francisco_sav

Note: Marbled murrelet calls in this episode are taken from a recording by Andrew Spencer in Redwood National and State Parks and used under the Creative Commons license. The full recording can be found here: Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

A close up selfie of a young man of Yurok heritage with a goatee wearing a yellow construction hat, orange Redwoods Rising hoodie, red vest with a camelback attachment standing in a redwoods forest.
Francisco Antonio Saavedra, Jr.

Read Transcription

Episode 2: Guardian of the redwoods


Emily Harwitz, Francisco Saavedra

Emily Harwitz 00:00

Hi! Welcome to another episode of I’ll Go If You Go. I’m your host, Emily Harwitz. For today’s episode, we’re heading up north to the land of the redwoods and redwoods people to talk with Francisco Saavedra, a 2023 and 2024 Redwoods Rising apprentice. Redwoods Rising is a landscape-scale restoration project in Redwood National and State Parks, now home to almost half of all the world’s remaining old growth redwoods and part of Yurok and Tolowa ancestral territories. The goal of Redwoods Rising is to restore forests and watersheds across 120,000 acres of land and areas damaged by historical logging. 

We’d planned to record this conversation outside in the Arcata Community Forest but it was raining the whole time we were up there. I love the rain, but my microphones don’t. So, we recorded inside Save the Redwoods League’s McKinleyville office. But through his stories, Francisco takes us outside deep into the redwood forest among his redwood ancestors to share how he got into forestry, his experience as a Redwoods Rising apprentice, and his perspective on what it means to be a Guardian of the Redwoods will let Francisco take it from here.

Francisco Saavedra 01:01

Hello, my name is Francisco Saavedra. Aiykwee Kues so’n awa pas (See translation below) to all my local Indigenous people listening. I am Pit River of the Madesi band with Yurok and El Salvadorian ancestry and it’s an honor to speak with you all today.

Translation:“Aiy-ye-kwee”. is a Yurok greeting, but it means much more than hello. The word KuesSo’n comes from the root word (Ah lec kueso’n) which translates to the sacred spirit energy that lives within all things. It has more feeling. It means I missed you, I’m so happy to see you. It applies to places too. The awa pas ending is used in the Ner-er ners coastal dialect. It’s an old-school way of introducing yourself. Together, Aiykwee Kues so’n awa pas means: Hello, what’s up. It also means a sincere hello from the heart, when I haven’t seen a friend in a long time, or a place. it’s to say how are YOU (the spirit that lives within all living things) being part of that energy.

Emily Harwitz 01:15

What did you do as a Redwoods Rising apprentice? What did that look like?

Francisco Saavedra 01:18

With Redwoods Rising, I had the opportunity to be a forestry apprentice. My job was predominantly timber cruising. For those of you listening who don’t know what a timber cruiser does, timber cruising is the process of measuring stands to determine characteristics such as tree sizes and volumes and basal area. And when you’re looking at such huge restorative sites, it’s thousands of acres, it’s not just one prescription that just like, okay, here’s the prescription and let’s treat it all the same. That’s where our forestry technicians are so vital. You need someone to go out there and give you accurate inventory of what species are out there, what it looks like.

Emily Harwitz 01:57

So cruising, does that mean you’re driving around like in a four-by-four?

Francisco Saavedra 02:01

No, you know, that’s interesting. Forestry in California, in the Wild West, is a lot different than what you’d see in forestry on the East Coast or in the other states. Our diameter classes are much larger so we’re going out there measuring very large basal areas. We’re not going out there on an ATV. We’re not going out there via truck. The terrain is so steep, and so many of these roads have been either commissioned, decommissioned–it’s a maze out there that we walk. We walk to these plots. You feel cool. You feel really cool. You got 30 to maybe 40 pounds of equipment and you feel like a tree recon specialist.

Emily Harwitz 02:43

That sounds cool!

Francisco Saavedra 02:44

Yeah, you feel like a soldier, like a soldier for good. You’re a soldier for restoration. You feel cool.

Emily Harwitz 02:52

What does your role consist of and what was your favorite thing about it?

Francisco Saavedra 02:56

My favorite thing about being a Redwoods Rising apprentice was that, in some apprenticeships, you’re kind of locked into your discipline. And in the Redwoods rising apprenticeship, we got to really jump around and work with the other disciplines where we could see where restoration–whether it’s aquatic restoration, road restoration, forest restoration–all come hand in hand. And something like that is so beautiful because, for an upcoming student trying to find his educational niche within the realm of Forestry and Natural Resources it’s beautiful to see how the different facets of this field or this art all come together for one common goal.

On top of that, it was a phenomenal experience to work amongst the NPS staff, the State Park staff. We also–something that was really powerful that really made me respect the whole program is that they sent us up north, Crescent City, north of Yurok territory to tahe Tolowa Dee-ni’ nation, where we got to participate in some land reclamation and some sign installation. And as an Indigenous person, I do fight for Land Back, I do fight for cultural recognition, I do fight for Indigenous stewardship. It was good to put the actual ancestral names to these places so that everyone, every American, every person who visits can see that, ‘oh, this land has a name,’ and I think that that was immensely powerful. I was so glad to be a part of that.

Emily Harwitz 04:30

Yeah, that’s awesome.

Francisco Saavedra 04:31

So, I think apprenticeships are important. I encourage any community college student and any university student who is in the field of natural resources to get involved in technician work, or get involved in apprenticeships, because they give you kind of that real-life perspective of like, hey, it’s one thing to take a forestry measurements applications class and know the theory behind the mathematics, know the trigonometry behind tree heights, you know, but it’s one thing to go and practice it in the field and get it down pat. And I think that those kinds of experiences are so valuable.

Emily Harwitz 05:10

How did you hear about the Redwoods Rising project?

Francisco Saavedra 05:12

It’s a great story. The way I heard about the Redwoods Rising project is: I’m blessed to go to College of the Redwoods here out of Eureka, where I’m surrounded by professors who are really proactive in creating jobs and career opportunities for their students. I had a phenomenal professor that was, I’d say, life changing. She was my first face that I saw in Intro to Forestry. She taught the class so well and in such an enthusiastic way that I felt immediately interested. She manages a Forestry Club, and she’s always shooting all these different opportunities at her students and she invited us to go to this thing called the Society of American Foresters. And oh boy, the title sounded intimidating to me. I was nervous I didn’t know what to expect. I’m a first year forestry student and I was quite nervous–actually so nervous that before I even went to Society of American Foresters, I had to call my mom because I said, ‘hey, I don’t know what to expect. I’m scared. I feel like I don’t fit in.’ But as soon as I heard the presentation from Redwoods Rising from your guys’s former fellow Karla [Jovel], I realized that this project right here hits every single restoration goal that I want to do in my life in an area that I want to live in and that I want to be in.

From then on, it was like tunnel vision, like apply, apply, apply, and cross my fingers. And when I got selected to be the forestry apprentice, I felt like Charlie Brown got the golden ticket. I felt like it’s on, like Creator gave me an opportunity of a lifetime and now it’s time to buckle down. So I became even more dedicated with my studies, I tried even harder in Dr. Tim Baker’s forestry measurements class. I became obsessive and now I’m a forestry animal. I love it. I eat, breathe, live forestry, natural resources. I want to dedicate my life to the restoration of California’s ecosystems.

Emily Harwitz 07:19

That’s so cool that you have found this path and this opportunity, you pursued it, and now you’ve done it and it just so deeply resonates with who you are.

Francisco Saavedra 07:27

I always tell people forestry found me. I was a 25-year-old kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. I jumped around a lot of majors, and I finally went back to school at 25–I’m a late bloomer–but I found my niche, and I think that when you find something that you’re good at, stick with it. 


Emily Harwitz 07:56

How did this experience influence your career direction?

Francisco Saavedra 07:59

It solidified that this is 100% what I want to become. I want to become one of the best professional Tribal foresters in the state of California and maybe even the nation. I know it sounds delusional, but sometimes you have to be. You have to be obsessive, and that’s me. Send me, I’m the guy. [Laughs]

Emily Harwitz 08:18

I’ve been saying, I need to be more delusional about my dreams and aspirations. You have to believe it, otherwise you can’t achieve it.

Francisco Saavedra 08:24

Yeah, you know, if you have the courage to see it in your head, and you have the courage to speak it out loud, just show up. I think that that’s my biggest advice to anyone who wants to get involved in ecological restoration. Is that, like going to the gym, what’s the hardest part? Showing up. Like, doing anything, it’s the consistency. And if you want to get involved in restoration work, find other people who are doing what you’re doing and say hey. Network, have the courage to say, ‘hey, how do I become a part of that work? Can I volunteer for that work? Hey, pick me,’ you know, and be Johnny-on-the-spot. Say yes. And if you can overcome that, you’d be surprised how many doors really open up for you.

You know, a lot of people say, ‘oh, it’s not that easy.’ It is that easy. It’s not like, you know–you still got to do the work. But that’s what I would say for people who wanted to get involved in restoration. Find local projects. You don’t have to be the smartest, the brightest, the most brilliant. You don’t even have to be the most physically able. California’s ecosystem needs all of you. We need scientists, we need biometricians, we need statisticians. If you’re not down to walk eight to nine miles and timber cruise, there’s still a place for you. So that would be my message to everyone listening who says ‘man, I want to get involved in restoration. How do I make a difference in my community?’ Just start volunteering. Just start saying ‘hey,’ you know, ‘how can I get involved?’

Emily Harwitz 08:40

Just like an ecosystem in nature. There are so many niches that you can find and, like you said, there’s a place for everyone in this work.

Francisco Saavedra 09:56

Yeah, there’s a place for everyone. And you know what? I go to college with beautiful students from all walks of life and the common consensus is changing. You know, most students that I meet want a holistic view, want an ecocentric view. They don’t want the world to end, they don’t want climate–you know, that’s what we want. We want a healthy ecosystem because a healthy forest, a healthy soil equals healthy people. And one of my favorite things about the Redwoods Rising project is, you know, I sit here before you as a 28-year-old man, and I can’t historically undo the damage that’s been done. I can’t historically undo the uncomfortable history. But the work we do here really does right a lot of historical wrongs, no matter what background you come from. And I think that that is extremely healing for our people.

Emily Harwitz 10:56

It’s like, I’m imagining this as, you’re weaving and uh oh, you dropped a bunch of stitches here or something happened where now there’s a hole in your fabric. Well, the work you’re doing is kind of, you’re able to go back and knit that back up, and then keep moving forward.

Francisco Saavedra 11:11

Yeah. Yeah. You know, I also am realistic. Sometimes I know that I might not see the fullness of the restoration in my lifetime. But if I can give every breath to restoration, that would mean a breath of fresh air for the future. There’s a saying in our culture that, when you’re a child—and you’re a little fry, and you’re a little salmonoid—you spend your whole life going with the flow. You go with the stream. But then you spend your adult life fighting back upstream. You give your entire life fighting that journey back upstream, to give it all your nutrients, all your eggs, all your lifeforce for the next generation. And that’s what I am. I’m an Indigenous ecological warrior.

Emily Harwitz 12:00

When you think about your future in conservation, what do you envision?

Francisco Saavedra 12:04

I see myself doing conservation ’til I’m an old man. I want to be like a guy that people look at, he’s like 70-something years old, 60-something years old. They’re like, ‘man, that guy is in shape. He’s phenomenal and he’s still doing it.’ And I want to be an educational and cultural resource for people who have questions. I want to be someone who inspires youth in my community, and I want to be able to transition myself into it being an educator, and a teacher, you know, a teacher of traditional ecological knowledge, a teacher of forestry. That’s where I see myself in the future of conservation.

But when I think of the future of conservation as a whole, I imagine a more ecocentric generation than the previous one. I see a future of more Indigenous-led stewardship of Native people being included into these conversations. I see traditional ecological knowledge with Forestry and Natural Resources studies as a whole being incorporated more into our education system K-12. I want to put traditional ecological knowledge in the hands of everyone—respectfully—to instill that same spiritual obligation to the land that Indigenous people have. It’s something that I want to inspire in the hearts of millions of Americans.


Emily Harwitz 13:27

Hey listeners, do you have comments, questions, stories about working in the redwoods? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at [email protected]. Okay, back to the episode.

Emily Harwitz 13:42

What do you think the redwoods remember about your first visit?

Francisco Saavedra 13:45

I’ve always known that the redwoods were living beings. I consider them a direct relative. They’re ancestors. I don’t think the redwoods necessarily remember me personally, but I think that they can see through me and see my heart, my ancestors and everyone that came before me. When I go back into the redwood forest, I don’t feel like I’m in the “wilderness.” I feel like I’m in my grandmother’s backyard. I feel like I’m home. I feel like I could get off work, fall asleep in the redwoods, and I’ll be completely fine.

What the redwoods remember about me and my work is that you know, in the conversations that I’ve had with keehl, the Yurok word for redwood, is that I’m here to help you. I’ve rested my forehead against and my sweat against these redwood trees and like they–you know, like let my soul, let my spirit speak into you and just understand that I’m here, you know, not to trespass. I’m here not to disrespect. I know that I have to stick this little metal thing in you and take the diameter, and it may feel very disrespectful. It might feel invasive. Would you just go up to your grandmother and stick a pin in her and measure her and do all these measurements? But I need to do it because I’m like a medicine man out there. I’m trying to heal these redwoods. So I think that redwoods love me and I love them.

And I think that, one day when I pass on and to the spirit world, I’ll return and I’ll be a redwood, too. And hopefully I grow really big and large, and probably reside somewhere in Indian country. And I get to watch prescribed burns happen and I get some bad***[marbled murrelet bleep] burn scars, ****[bleep]ing Injun tattoo burn scars from all the Injuns that practice prescribed burns, and I watch basketmakers and I watch dancers and singers and I see the renaissance and I see the dream that I gave my whole life for it.

Emily Harwitz 14:56

That’s so sick.

Francisco Saavedra 15:48

Yeah, that’s what I want to be. I think the redwoods know who I am beyond what we would conceptualize like time and space. In Western society, we look at time as very linear, but it doesn’t really exist like that. It’s more like an ocean. And sometimes I think that the redwood trees know so much more about me than I’d ever know about myself. And it’s just an honor. I believe, and many others believe, that the forest knows who you are long before you’ve ever seen the redwood tree. There’s so much life, and so much, like think of it as like neuroconnective activity, that every step you make in the forest translates to a rhythm on the mycelial mat that makes up this whole system.

Francisco Saavedra 16:43

So it’s like, when you start thinking things from that perspective, you know, that like, hey, they know I’m here. And when you walk like that, it’s like, okay, well–It’s a different perspective. That’s why sometimes the field of Forestry and Natural Resources is sometimes hard from academic standpoint because we do look at things as living beings. It’s not like we’re crying for every tree that gets cut down, but we want the forest to understand that I’m here to help. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve had many conversations while in the redwoods of like, ‘this is what we’re doing out here. This is why I’m here.’ That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Emily Harwitz 17:31


Francisco Saavedra 17:31

The redwoods are alive. The forest is alive. Everything around you has a life force, has an energy. [MUSIC]

Emily Harwitz 17:37

So we’ve made it to the Lightning Round. [Lightning bolt] The first question I have for you is: you’ve had a long relationship with the redwoods. If you could work in another capacity in the redwoods, what would you do?

Francisco Saavedra 17:58

Well right now I’m living my dream of pursuing my goal as a registered professional forester. But if I could do anything in the redwoods in another capacity, it’d probably that of a culturally significant documentary filmmaker. But I’d like to make educational videos of the ethnobotanical uses and cultural perspective stories and truths from Indigenous people, of California plants and wildlife. That would be something I’d want to do. I would want to take my songs and my necklaces and medicine and make these connections with other Indigenous people all throughout California and document in film–respectfully–their culture, and be that filmmaker, like a Viceland-type guy.

Emily Harwitz 18:46

Well I hope to see [your films] one day.

Francisco Saavedra 18:47

Thank you. Thank you.

Emily Harwitz 18:49

If you were redwood, where would you be and why?

Francisco Saavedra 18:52

Somewhere protected where I could develop under plenty of sunlight and become an ancient one, and watch stream restorations and our people prosper. Probably greater Prairie Creek State Park because that’s where I initiated my first timber cruise. It’s where I got a first taste of restoration work and I would love to reside there as a redwood tree, grow really big and tall, and then when I’m hundreds and hundreds of years old, I’ll ask lightning or one of my buddies to knock me down so that I can become a redwood canoe and be immortalized as a being, and transport people up and down the Klamath River and take them on their last boat ride, take them to the spirit world–you know, laughter, joy. That would be my existence as a redwood.

Emily Harwitz 19:39

Back to the redwoods that know you?

Francisco Saavedra 19:40


Emily Harwitz 19:42

All right. This is–[laughs].

Francisco Saavedra 19:44

[laughs] I love this one. What would I bring with me?

Emily Harwitz 19:47

Yeah, this is a fun light one. Or maybe not. It can be whatever you want it to be. You’re going to spend a day in the redwoods. What are three things you’re taking with you?

Francisco Saavedra 19:57

Water. You always bring water. Water is life. Water is good for hydration. Sometimes if you take something really cool from the redwoods and you got nothing else to offer–you got no tobacco, you got no cool rock–sometimes you can give some of your water. And that’s an offering of respect. The second thing I’d bring is a friend or a loved one. Experiences are better enjoyed with other people. Beauty is best shared with other people. So you know, bring a loved one with you. And lastly, a good stick and a heart. Always go in the woods at the stick. One walking stick can take pounds of pressure off each one of your knees. You want–it’s about longevity in this game.

Emily Harwitz 20:44


Francisco Saavedra 20:44

If you want to walk the redwoods forever, I recommend good footwear, a stick, water, and a friend.

Emily Harwitz 20:51

Well, that’s the spirit of I’ll Go If You Go.

Francisco Saavedra 20:53


Emily Harwitz 20:54

It’s been a real pleasure and honor to share this space with you today and to talk about the redwoods, your experiences as a Redwoods Rising apprentice, and as a future-major-hardcore-forester.

Francisco Saavedra 21:07

Thank you. Thank you so much. Wok-hlew’, deepest thanks to you. Thank you for taking the time to come and speak with me today. I look forward to making my community and my people and my nation proud. Very honored to have this podcast and share words with you today. Thank you so much.

Emily Harwitz 21:25

Oh, thank you. 


Emily Harwitz 21:29

Thanks for joining us on I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast. This season is produced by Leslie Parra and hosted, edited, and sound engineered by Emily Harwitz. Thank you to Adam Kaplan for tech support, and Caleb Castle, Marcos Castineiras, and Mary McPheely for graphic design and media support. Theme song and music by Nhu Nguyen and Anni Feng. You can find seasons one, two, and three wherever you listen to podcasts or on where you can also find transcripts of each episode. 

If you like our show, please rate and review. It helps more people find us and join in the conversation. For behind-the-scenes and bonus content, follow us on Instagram @IllGoIfYouGoPod. If you have comments or questions, you can email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you and maybe even share your comments on the podcast. That’s all folks. Catch you next time!

About the podcast

I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast.

On I’ll Go If You Go, we have thought-provoking conversations with emerging environmental leaders from diverse backgrounds who explore and work in the outdoors. By examining how we think, work, and play in the outdoors, we’re building community and illuminating how Californians from all walks of life experience nature and conservation, in the redwoods and beyond.

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Emily Harwitz
About the host of Season 4

Emily Harwitz (she/her) is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker who works at the nexus of science and art to catalyze social and environmental change. Trained as a scientist and journalist, she also draws from her experience working in conservation and the outdoors to tell stories that inform, inspire, and rebuild connection with the beauty of nature we’re all part of.

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