Along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada sit 530-acres of pristine forest, filled with red and white fir trees, ponderosa pines and—the stars of the landscape—hundreds of towering giant sequoia trees. Alder Creek, as the area is known, is the largest giant sequoia property that still remains in private hands. But as Isaac Schultz reports for Atlas Obscura, a conservation group now intends to buy Alder Creek, with the ultimate goal of transferring the land to the United States Forest Service. First, though, the group needs help raising funds for the purchase.
The California-based Save the Redwoods League is asking the public to contribute to its efforts to raise $15.6 million by December 31 of this year. According to Bettina Boxall of the Los Angeles Times, a “handful of big donors” have already committed $7 million to the cause. The group says it will need an additional $4.35 million for “ongoing stewardship” once the property has been acquired.
“Our plan is to eventually transfer [Alder Creek] to the Giant Sequoia National Monument so that this place will belong to all of us—for recreation, education, and inspiration,” the group explains.
Giant sequoias, also known as Sierra Redwoods, exist today on just 48,000 acres of land in the Sierra Nevada. They can reach heights of more than 300 feet and live for 3,000 years. Most of the approximately 73 groves that house these ancient behemoths grow on public lands in Yosemite National Park, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and Sequoia National Forest, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News. But Alder Creek has been owned by the Rouch family since the end of WWII.
The property was purchased for its logging potential, and its pines and firs were cut down for lumber. But the sequoias were, for the most part, left alone.
“Less than a dozen were ever taken,” one member of the family, Mike Rouch, tells Rogers. “I’m 62, and there’s never been one cut down in my lifetime. They could have gotten fence posts or roof shakes out of them. But I think my dad deep down recognized how beautiful they were and he didn’t want to take them.”
Alder Creek boasts 483 old-growth sequoias with diameters of six feet or greater and is home to Stagg Tree, a hulking specimen that is believed to be the fifth-largest tree in the world; it spans more than 25 feet wide and 250 feet tall. Younger sequoias, between 50 and 200 years old, also grow on the land, making the property “spectacular,” according to the Save the Redwoods League.
The Rouchs loved Alder Creek—the ashes of two members of the family have been scattered there, according to Boxall—but decided to sell the property in order to secure its future. “[W]e don’t know once I’m gone and the rest of my siblings and cousins are gone, what would happen then,” Skip Rouch, Mike’s brother, tells Boxall.
The Save the Redwoods League has in fact been in talks about acquiring Alder Creek for more than a decade. The property has been well maintained by its current owners, but some areas have grown “unnaturally dense,” according to the organization, because they have been free of wildfires for more than 100 years. Low-intensity or controlled burns can actually be beneficial to forest ecosystems, clearing out undergrowth that might fuel catastrophic wildfires in the future. Save the Redwoods plans to thin out the forest by removing some of the smaller, non-sequoias trees, which will also “open the forest canopy, providing giant sequoia with the sunlight and bare forest floor they require to thrive,” says Kristen Shive, director of science for the Save the Redwoods League.
Giant sequoias are typically quite resilient in the face of forest fires, but large blazes fuelled by climate change have been killing them in alarming numbers. Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League, tells Rogers of Mercury News that the chance to manage the trove of sequoias at Alder Creek represents “probably the most-coveted sequoia conservation opportunity in a generation.”
“This is an alpine landscape covered with iconic, breathtaking, cinnamon-barked trees that are surrounded by pastures,” Hodder adds. “It is such a superlative representation of nature. This is the prize. This is the best of what’s left. It’s a very special place.”