Neida and the Giant Sequoias

Episode 6 of Season 4 — Hosted by Save the Redwoods League.


Photo of Neida Rodriguez with host Emily Harwitz
Neida Rodriguez with host Emily Harwitz

In this sixth episode, host Emily Harwitz travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range (figuratively) with guest Neida Rodriguez, a rising forestry student at Cal Poly Humboldt and this year’s Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow. There’s only one species of the biggest tree on Earth—giant sequoias—and it’s a special treat to hear from Neida herself about what it’s like to work among giants and what stewarding sequoias looks like today. From preparing the land for healthy fire to learning from the Tribes who know this land best, to monitoring for bears and finding gray wolf tracks (!), Neida regales us with tales from the field and gives us the latest on what’s happening in the world of giant sequoias.

About our guest

Neida Rodriguez

Neida Rodriguez is a forestry student at Cal Poly Humboldt and this year’s Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow. As a forester and naturalist, she hopes to restore and steward the places she loves while giving back to her community by creating opportunities for people to get out into the field. When she’s not walking amongst giant sequoias, you might find Neida in the desert admiring the beauty of all things great and small.

Read Transcription

Episode 6: Neida and the Giant Sequoias


Emily Harwitz (host), Neida Rodriguez (guest)


Emily Harwitz 00:00

Hi and welcome to another episode of I’ll Go If You Go. I’m your host, Emily Harwitz. So far this season, we’ve spent a lot of time with the coast redwoods. Well today, we’re going to check up on the redwoods of the Sierra Nevada range: the giant sequoias. And who better to do that with than our guest, Neida Rodriguez, a current Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow. Growing up, Neida didn’t know that she could work in conservation, but she did know that she loved trees and wanted to give back to them. Now she’s studying forestry while helping steward the biggest trees on earth. Get ready for some boots-on-the-ground stories about what she does, sees, learns and loves about working out there amongst the giants.


Emily Harwitz 00:39

We’re here, as you can hear [sounds of cars honking in the background], recording from the Save the Redwoods League office in downtown San Francisco. Hey Neida, how’s it going?

Neida Rodriguez 00:49

It’s going good.

Emily Harwitz 00:50

So you’re here all the way out from the land of the giant sequoia. How does it feel to be downtown surrounded by giant buildings instead of trees?

Neida Rodriguez 00:59

It feels a little different. Oddly enough, I feel a lot more lost here than I ever do in a forest, because the city is such a different element for me, but it feels good to be here with you guys.

Emily Harwitz 01:10

So what does a Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow do?

Neida Rodriguez 01:14

That’s a good question. I would say we wear so many different hats, but in a nutshell, we help with the ongoing restoration projects over in the Western Divide Ranger District of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, as well as on our Alder Creek property, in order to mitigate wildfire behavior around Giant Sequoias. So that’s what we’re doing.

Emily Harwitz 01:36

Wildfire behavior—what do you mean by that?

Emily Harwitz 01:38

So what does that look like, your day-to-day?


Yeah, so after hundreds of years of fire suppression and indigenous removal—you know, the forest isn’t in the greatest condition right now, and so when wildfires do come, it burns a little too hot. And so our job is to come in and mitigate that by doing fuels reductions and removing as much biomass as we can before we can safely reintroduce fire.


During the field season is a lot more fun. We’re flagging out our project sites and units, and especially flagging out our natural and cultural resources in order to protect them, so that we’re not trampling all over regen [regenerating vegetation] or cutting down trees in cultural sites. That’s the majority of the work. We mainly target the giant sequoia groves, so we’ll look for giant sequoias and remove fuels within 25 feet around them, and then just continue to do that throughout the groves.

Emily Harwitz 02:34

For our listeners who don’t know what fuels reduction means, fuels is anything flammable, and reduction is just removing that.


So there would be trees that would consistently be checked by fires or cultural burning, but with the removal of fire, and also indigenous folks, nothing has really kept [the vegetation] in check, and so they continue to grow. And so now you have this really dense forest where crown fires easily get into the canopies of giant sequoias and other prioritized species, like our sugar pines, so all these larger trees, and so by removing fuels, you reduce that crown fire risk.

In some cases, we are removing super deep packs of duff layer. We’re removing duff layer from around the cavities of giant sequoias, because when the fires do come in and they’re burning that duff layer that’s been building up for so many years, it’s kind of creating, especially in that cavity—it’s creating so much more heat. And so the cavity just continues to get larger and larger into the giant sequoia. So that’s part of what we do, as well as not just the fuels, which are considered the trees around connecting fire into the canopies of giant sequoias, but also some duff layer in some areas.

Emily Harwitz 03:51

So what kind of a background do you need to get into this kind of work and be able to spend all day in the sequoias?

Neida Rodriguez 03:57

You do need some sort of background in environmental sciences or forestry. For a while I was doing environmental resource management, and I knew I loved trees, and so that’s what mainly called me over here to Save the Redwoods League. And then as I’m shadowing our registered professional forester, he’s sort of mentoring me, and I’m sort of finding my way through him. And so now I’m really into forestry, especially forest restoration, and so that’s the track that I’m going down.

I don’t think I come from a very traditional background. I grew up in the Central Valley here in California within a migrant household, and so it wasn’t really something we’re familiar with. And so as an adult, I started exploring these spaces, and I’m sort of finding my way. I went on a hike one day and wondered how I can give back, and then fell into a naturalist position at a local preserve, and then from there, really fell in love with the maintenance and restoration side of things. So I became a land steward, and then became a ranger for some time, and so just kind of really following what excites me and what fulfills me. It’s always been the field of restoration and conservation, and I’m just finding my way as an adult. Nobody’s held my hand and is like, ‘Hey, you should work in these spaces.’ So I’m kind of discovering them, like, I’ve only ever camped as an adult, or gone to the beach as an adult,

Emily Harwitz 05:28

Without those people showing you the way in the outdoors/conservation/restoration fields, how have you been able to maintain, I guess, the motivation to keep going?

Neida Rodriguez 05:41

Just continuing to do what fulfills me. Giving back to these green places that did so much for me when I discovered them that I just feel the need to give back. And at this point, I feel like I’m part of this ecosystem as well, and I have that responsibility.

And it’s really funny, because I don’t think my family understands what I do. They just think I run around in the forest, and it’s very strange to them. And so I try to explain what I do, but it’s just something that they don’t understand. And so I think it’s funny. I’m like, ‘okay, the giant sequoias’—this is in Spanish—or like, ‘removing fuels, trying to save them.’ And they’re like, ‘yeah, she works over there at the park.’ I’m like, ‘okay, not exactly what I do.’ And they’re—it’s, it’s strange, and it’s not traditional for them. And so they’re scared and they don’t understand it. They’re like, ‘Yeah, you should carry some protection with you so you can defend yourself, or you never know, and you’re really out there with no signal.’ It’s very, very different. So I’m—I consider myself very fortunate, and I feel like I really hacked into this world. I see myself in the conservation field. I don’t see myself doing anything else.

Emily Harwitz 06:57

That’s really cool. I love that story of you following what you were curious about and what you cared about. That’s one of the things I love most about the work that I do as a science journalist is getting to ask questions and then see, you know, try to find out the answers and see where that leads me.

Neida Rodriguez 07:11

And the results are always so rewarding, like whether you’re working on something as small as planting some flowers and now we’re working with these giant sequoias. Like, seeing a project from start to finish, it’s extremely rewarding. It’s part of, it’s just—when you really start seeing yourself as part of the ecosystem in these places, it’s like, it’s just—I can’t describe it other than rewarding.

Emily Harwitz 07:37

I think that is such an important point that we as people, we’re animals, we’re part of nature too, and we are part of these ecosystems. And Indigenous people were, they lived on the land until they were removed, and now we’re putting people back in the landscape to help steward these places again.

Neida Rodriguez 07:56

Yeah. I genuinely think, you know, we’re responsible for and we have a responsibility to restore a lot of these places. Like what we’re seeing with our giant sequoias, they’re really falling victim to the removal of Indigenous people as well as to fire suppression. And now I really do think that we have a responsibility to restore the forest. You know, it’s in a really unhealthy condition in certain areas. That’s just been such a rewarding aspect of my job, to be part of such amazing projects and collaborate with other agencies and just see how they’re managing their lands and what’s working for them, and how we’re all just part of this mission. It’s just been amazing.

Emily Harwitz 08:40

Cool. Can you give me an example of one of the projects you’ve seen from start to finish?

Neida Rodriguez 08:45

Ooh, yeah, our Longmeadow project. So Longmeadow Grove—it was my first season with the League as well—we saw it from start to finish. So we’re hiking in there, in the snow, checking out the site, flagging off areas before operations, and we completed it. It’s over 600 acres.

Emily Harwitz 09:06

What was the goal? Was this marking fuels to take out?

Neida Rodriguez 09:11

Yeah. So this was marking fuels and removing fuels around giant sequoias to mitigate wildfire behavior. So a lot of it went over to biomass, and a lot of the extra mass, we piled it and burned it, and then whatever went to the mill went right back into the project. So that was one of the most exciting projects.

Emily Harwitz 09:31

So with this restoration work that you’re doing, you were just telling me that you work on one giant sequoia grove at a time, and each grove is part of the bigger landscape of giant sequoias, part of the landscape of the forest. And by restoring the groves, you’re adding the resilience back into the landscape.

Neida Rodriguez 09:50

Exactly, yeah. You’re adding the resilience back into the species. Because the giant sequoias are at risk due to years of drought, fire suppression, and now we’re hearing beetles, and so by restoring and removing fuels, you are reintroducing and kind of assisting with the resilience that they once had.

Emily Harwitz 10:16

So in a way, you’re helping to restore natural processes back because fire is a natural process of this environment.

How did you hear about the Giant Sequoia Forest Fellowship?

Neida Rodriguez 10:27

I think one of my friends was looking up jobs, and he suggested that—he’s like, ‘this would be perfect for you.’ He knows my love for trees, and I just decided to apply and it’s just been a really interesting journey. I didn’t think I’d get it. I mean, I talk about this a lot with my colleagues, how I suffer a little bit with imposter syndrome, because, you know, I didn’t come up with it. I didn’t come from a traditional background of conservation. I’m still finishing school, and it’s something—it’s one of my biggest goals. But I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to be able to work in my field while also going to school, and I think that’s extremely rare—especially in the Central Valley, these opportunities don’t come across often. So when there is an opportunity like this, I see it because there’s not many. I’m always looking for conservation jobs near me.

Emily Harwitz 11:42

What are you most looking forward to with this upcoming field season? Summer is around the corner.

Neida Rodriguez 11:47

Yes, and I am so excited. It has been a great winter, but I am such a field person, so I cannot wait to get back out in the field. I am excited to work on a new grove. We are working on Packsaddle Grove this year. And also, I’m extremely excited to start the apprentice program that I’ve been working on all winter. Our apprentice program is an apprenticeship for foresters of Reedley and Bakersfield College. I’ve been working on this all winter and I’m excited that it’s finally coming to light, especially because now I get to give back to the community that I grew up in. There are going to be more opportunities for folks in the Central Valley to get back out or get their first experience in the field, and that’s extremely important. And just in the short interviews that I’ve done this week, I’ve already heard the fact that they’re excited and that these opportunities don’t come around. And so I’m excited that I’m going to be doing what I love in the groves, but also giving back to my community or assisting that.

Emily Harwitz 12:49

So does that mean you will have apprentices with you?

Neida Rodriguez 12:53

Yeah, we’ll have apprentices with our team. So it’ll be myself, and then another Giant Sequoia Forest Fellow will be on the field with four apprentices this year.

Emily Harwitz 13:01

That’s awesome. What excites you about this new grove you’re going to work on?

Neida Rodriguez 13:07

The fact that there are wolves in the area—

Emily Harwitz 13:10

That is amazing. So when can I come out into the field with you and see these wolf tracks?

Neida Rodriguez 13:17

Anytime, especially this summer. You should come out!

Emily Harwitz 13:19

Yes, okay, I’m there! So what do you like the most about doing fieldwork?

Neida Rodriguez 13:24

It’s just what I find the most fulfilling, when I’m out in the field. That’s just the best office. You can’t—offices don’t get better than giant sequoia groves. And I’m so fortunate, and I’m so aware of that. Early field days, carrying all your field gear and all your equipment, and like monitoring and just really looking at these groves from the top down, recognizing and seeing all these, like, the regeneration of giant sequoias, protecting streams, finding cool little critters—it’s just running around groves and learning them, and they’re all so different, and that’s just the most fulfilling part. I just feel like I never want to stop exploring. And there’s always so much to know, especially in these groves, they’re just so interesting.

Emily Harwitz 14:19

So you get to be physically present, physically active, discovering new things all the time, surrounded by beauty. Sounds incredible.

Neida Rodriguez 14:28

Yeah, I feel like foresters wear so many hats, because as a forester, you’re looking at streams, you’re looking to protect your natural resources. You’re also looking at the geology of things, you’re looking at wildlife. You know, if there’s a nest in a tree, I’m flagging it as a wildlife tree. If there is a tree, a dead snag, a dead tree, that would be considered a perfect for wildlife, I’m gonna flag it. And so you’re wearing all these different wildlife hats, you’re protecting cultural resources, you’re protecting regeneration. And I, as a forester, you really get a broad feel to what the forest is as a whole.

Emily Harwitz 15:12

You get that bird’s eye view of the story of what’s happening in the forest. You get to really know all of your characters. And you’ve mentioned multiple times that you love trees. What do you love about trees?

Neida Rodriguez 15:25

There are so many things to love about trees. They’re just these giant organisms that are just so smart, they connect with each other, and they provide so much habitat, especially oak trees. Surprisingly, oak trees are one of my favorites. They just provide so much habitat for wildlife, and they’re just amazing. And I do really believe we’re part of the planet and we’re part of the ecosystem as a whole. And when you’re looking at these places—I just got back from the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, and being in a room full of so many experts really puts things into perspective for you, especially when you’re all on the same page and understand the goal and are looking and working towards this mission. It’s like you see these giant sequoia groves, and we love our sequoias, and a lot of folks there mentioned, they’re not museums. You know, you can’t just keep them there forever. They’re a living organism that has a cycle that needs to continue, and by suppressing fire—that’s never been part of that ecosystem, fire suppression. Fire has always been part of the ecosystem. So looking at everything in a holistic perspective, I feel like is this job. It is what it is. And I think that’s really changed my aspect and my perception of life as a whole.

Emily Harwitz 16:52

I think that’s such a cool framing of conservation, of restoration. This idea that a forest is something that we live alongside of, and as stewards of the land, how do we help it best live its life on its own terms?

Neida Rodriguez 17:08

On its own terms is a very big highlight, for sure, because forests have their own ecosystems and their own journey, and if that means like eventually a fire will take out an old giant sequoia, as long as it’s part of the system and not due to something like fire suppression, then that’s okay, in my opinion. You know everything, it’s a cycle of life.

Emily Harwitz 17:35

What do you think forest restoration needs more of in terms of restoring giant sequoia species,

Neida Rodriguez 17:41

I believe that it needs to be continued to be managed, and the reintroduction of traditional ecological knowledge has been missing, as well as fire, and it definitely needs some continued help, especially for the conservation of the species of the giant sequoia species.

Emily Harwitz 17:59

How are they doing?

Neida Rodriguez 18:02

So there’s a lot of different reports and opinions from what I’ve seen firsthand. You know, there’s a lot of groves that have been severely affected by our wildfires, and there have been series of wildfires, and it’s really scary to see 3,000-4,000 year old trees be killed by a wildfire. And I’m sure there are more aspects. That kind of goes back to what I said, feeling responsible for that, as humans, for the fire suppression. The fact that a tree can die on our watch, that has lived for so long, is a little scary to me, so I’m really glad that I’m working towards preventing that and restoring the forest back to a healthy state.

I also do want to say that all of this work is done not just by myself. We have an awesome team and we collaborate with our agencies and friends, and so we’re all working towards this mission. We work with the Forest Service, we do basically contract work for them, but also our partners. You know, we’re at the Tule River Tribe. We want to make sure that they also feel like they’re included like they should be, and making sure that we’re all on the same page when it comes to stewarding these landscapes. It’s extremely important that we make sure that the Tule River Tribe is also involved, and the local tribes as well. There are also not federally recognized tribes. And so just making sure everyone has a seat at the table and a voice at the table, the people who need to.

Emily Harwitz 19:33

You mentioned earlier the Giant Sequoia Landscape Coalition. Can you tell me a little more about that and what that is?

Neida Rodriguez 19:38

Yeah, so the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition is a coalition that has all different agencies—so nonprofits and government agencies—that all manage giant sequoia groves. And so it’s kind of a place and a coalition where people who do manage these groups can come together and share their management styles and what’s working for them, and research and science. So it’s really a great way to continue giant sequoia restoration in these groves.

Emily Harwitz 20:10

When you seek nature, what do you look for? Where do you go?

Neida Rodriguez 20:15

Personally, I love the desert so much, especially in the springtime. The desert is so alive. People think that there’s nothing in the desert. And it’s really funny because I work in the forest, but the desert is also one of my favorite ecosystems—just to see how much it’s adapted to its environment, and looking at the little small flowers in the springtime, and just looking at the little creeks. That’s one of my favorite things to do, is go into the desert. But I also love and look for ecosystem—like little tiny things. It’s always the little things, so like the lichen on the rocks, and looking at all the different colored lichens, and then looking at what’s under the logs. Be careful because there can be snakes, but also listening to the birds. I love birds, and so hearing them, just in these spaces, especially around this time, it just brings me a lot of tranquility.


PROMO 21:16

This season of I’ll Go If You Go, we’re highlighting some of the many jobs you can work in conservation and the outdoors. And if you’re interested in working with Save the Redwoods League, check out our careers page on We hope to hear from you!


Emily Harwitz 21:33

We’ve made it to the lightning round. All right. Neida, first question: if you could work in another capacity in the forest, what would you do?

Neida Rodriguez 21:41

Oh, that is so hard to say because, like I said, foresters wear so many hats, so I get the broad range of things.

Emily Harwitz 21:48

Yeah, you’re not allowed to be a forester in this scenario, but you can do anything else.

Neida Rodriguez 21:52

It would be botany. Botany would be so much fun. I love keying and ID-ing plants. I do admit that I need to get better at it, but botany would be so much fun.

Emily Harwitz 22:03

I agree. Okay, second question: if you were a sequoia, where would you be and why?

Neida Rodriguez 22:09

I don’t know where, what grove I would like to be in, but I would like to be near a body of water because bodies of water attract lots of little critters, and I would have lots of friends to hang out with.

Emily Harwitz 22:21

I want to be in the grove with wolves.

Neida Rodriguez 22:24

That’s a good one.

Emily Harwitz 22:25

Last lightning round question. You are going to spend a day in the sequoias—with the sequoias. What are three things you’re taking with you?

Neida Rodriguez 22:33

First aid kit is by default, right?

Emily Harwitz 22:25

Yeah, yeah.

Neida Rodriguez 22:36

Okay. So water, snacks, and a field guide of the area, because there is hardly any signal and I would go crazy if I couldn’t ID a bird that I really wanted to ID. So, a field guide.

Emily Harwitz 22:52

Cool. Well, that sounds great, and I can’t wait to come out into the sequoias with you.

Neida Rodriguez 22:57

I can’t wait to have you!

Emily Harwitz 22:58

I’ll bring a field guide and some water.

Neida Rodriguez 22:59

Okay, you said it,

Emily Harwitz 23:00

Wait a second—what snacks would you bring?

Neida Rodriguez 23:03

What snacks? Ooh, chips. I love crunchy, salty chips. So some sort of salt, kettle cooked chip. Those are the best, especially after a long field day or hike.

Emily Harwitz 23:15

Well, it sounds like a good time, and I can’t wait to get out there with you.

Neida Rodriguez 23:20


Emily Harwitz 23:21

Thanks for joining us today on I’ll Go If You Go, Neida. This was so much fun.

Neida Rodriguez 23:24

Thank you so much for having me. I hope that I represented the giant Sequoias well. But yeah, thank you for having me.


Emily Harwitz 23:33

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!

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

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