Reflections on Redwoods Rising Launch Event

Editors Note: For additional information on Redwoods Rising, please visit www.RedwoodsRising.org

By: Jay Chamberlin, Chief, Natural Resources Division

When I arrived at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on Friday morning – after running the gauntlet of road-construction traffic delays and during a brief break in the morning’s rain showers – I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The long anticipated day for formally launching our partnership with the National Park Service and the Save the Redwoods League had finally arrived. I could feel and see the excitement on everyone’s faces. The reason for our celebration? The launch of a new, modern restoration project called Redwoods Rising. This project begs for the backstory so here it is:

In 1968, Congress created Redwood National Park. It adjoins Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (1923), Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (1925), and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (1929) to form the 120,000 acre Redwood National and State Park complex in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties.

About 40,000 acres of this landscape is old growth redwoods – and has the distinction of being the largest amalgamation of old growth redwoods in the world. Redwood National and State Park is truly a global treasure, and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere reserve.

But most of what’s between the old growth groves are made up of previously logged-over lands that retain the scars – old logging roads, degraded streams and densely packed, overgrown forests – of the industrial forestry that extracted most of the old growth from California.

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Two panoramic photos comparing conditions in an old growth forest (top) and a neighboring second growth forest (bottom) in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Redwoods in the second growth forest suffer from high competition and lack the fully develop canopies seen in the old growth forest. The large multilayered canopy of an old growth redwood allows these trees to grow so large and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Photo by Andrew Slack, Save the Redwoods League.

California State Parks has entered into a partnership – called Redwoods Rising – with the National Park Service and Save the Redwoods League to restore the ecological health of the whole park landscape.

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Left to right: Chief of Natural Resources Division Jay Chamberlin, Northern Division Chief Jason De Wall, Deputy Superintendent at Redwood National and State Parks David Roemer, Save the Redwoods League President and CEO Sam Hodder, Save the Redwoods League Chief Program Officer Paul Ringgold, Redwood National and State Parks Superintendent Steve Mietz, Save the Redwoods League’s Director of Science Emily Burns, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), Director Lisa Mangat, North Coast Redwoods District Superintendent Victor Bjelajac, Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).

Over the last 40 years, both State Parks and the National Park Service have worked to restore some of the degraded watershed lands at Redwood National and State Parks. Many miles of road have been decommissioned, stretches of streams have been restored, and nearly 10,000 acres of land has been restored in that time. Such restoration can put second and third-growth forests, and the watersheds that surround them – on a trajectory to regain the characteristics of mature forests much more quickly. But, we must do much more.

As global ecological threats mount, we recognize with greater urgency the ecological significance of our old growth redwood forests. For example, these forests are essential for the survival and recovery of endangered species like the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in old-growth, the coho salmon and steelhead trout who spawn in the clear, cold streams that run through ancient forests, and Humboldt marten, a mammal once thought to be extinct, but that persists in the interior of State Parks’ old growth forests.

Unfortunately, as the likely impacts of climate change are becoming better understood, we recognize that our mighty old-growth forests may become vulnerable. Increased wildfire, changing fog and precipitation patterns, and new pests and pathogens all may pose risks never before experienced by these forests.

Scientists have pointed out that a critical element in protecting our ancient forests – and the species that depend on them – is to make sure that they are linked together through a healthy forested landscape. Thriving, connected watersheds will be more resilient to the mounting stresses. With restoration techniques honed by years of experience, and steeped by sound science, we have the requisite skills and abilities to restore a healthy and connected landscape.

While State Parks has been making good progress on restoring degraded lands in Mill Creek watershed of Del Norte Coast State Park – resources and roads crews have treated roughly 5,000 acres of forest and decommissioned some 70 miles of roads – that work has been funded in a piecemeal fashion – through grants and one time dedications of restoration or maintenance dollars.

What’s been lacking is a strategic, dedicated and well-funded program.

That’s what the Redwoods Rising effort provides. Through a focused partnership with Save the Redwoods League and the National Park Service, we are developing a shared strategy and implementation plan that seeks to massively scale-up our restoration work.  Our goal is 10,000 acres of restored forest lands – as much as we’ve done in the last 40 years – completed in the coming five years.

By working together, we’re advancing a shared restoration strategy, creating a dedicated interagency team that shares resources and knows how to get the job done. We’re developing coordinated compliance and permitting packages to meet our regulatory requirements, and working to build future leaders through fellowship and apprenticeship programs with Humboldt State University.

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Frankie Meyers, Yurok Tribal Preservation Officer, gives a blessing at the start of the ceremony.

While only time can truly create old growth, our actions now can assist the recovery of the remaining degraded lands throughout the watersheds that the old growth forests depend on. This work will accelerate the return to health of the whole landscape, allowing the habitats that all associated species need to thrive.

With our partners, we are pursuing larger dedicated funding opportunities from state, federal and philanthropic sources. We are also engaging a larger range of stakeholders and supporters than we could on our own.  The three partner agencies have already joined together in presentations to the Parks Forward Commission last year in Sacramento and the Public Lands Alliance conference earlier this year in Palm Springs, where statewide leaders and national practitioners learned of our work.

Redwoods Rising is a true partnership in that it allows each of the three partners to focus on its most significant strengths. State Parks’ strengths include an intimate knowledge of the land, a detailed understanding of the steps to be taken to restore its health, and a successful track record of getting that work done efficiently.

And through this partnership, we’re learning from our neighbors – the National Park Service – just as we are working with Save the Redwoods League to understand emerging science and embrace new opportunities to engage the broader public and a broader range of donors in this important endeavor.

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Director Lisa Mangat with Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg).

Besides being important on its own, this project has a larger significance for State Parks and the Transformation effort launched by the Governor in 2015. Redwoods Rising reflects a set of principles that emerged during the Transformation process: it is partnership based, steeped in sound science, addressing climate change considerations, and working at a landscape scale rather than simply within our boundaries. As such, this is a project that reflects many elements that will be foundational to the future natural resources efforts of the department.

The elements of the partnership – and the roles and responsibilities of each of our agencies under the program – are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the three agencies. That signing ceremony was the reason we were gathered.

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California State Parks staff who attended the Redwoods Rising event on April 27 jump for joy as our department, the National Park Service and Save the Redwoods League launch a joint partnership to restore 10,000 acres of redwood forests in the next five years.
Photo by: Andrew Slack, Save the Redwoods League

When the ceremony began, the rain had really started coming down. Under the tent, over 100 park partners, volunteers, tribal representatives, staff and others gathered to hear from park and non-profit leaders and elected officials. After a brief welcome, Frankie Meyers, Yurok Tribal Preservation Officer, honored attendees with a blessing. Director Mangat gave a heartfelt talk to mark the significance of the occasion, and a number of other invited dignitaries also gave remarks. State Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Jim Wood, Redwood National Park Superintendent Steve Meitz, and Save the Redwoods League President Sam Hodder provided perspective and encouragement.

Partners who worked so hard to bring this project to fruition – including Superintendent Victor Bjelajac, Northern Division Chief Jason DeWall, and Deputy Director of Public Affairs Gloria Sandoval, Special Assistant Karl Knapp, and Amber Transou, District Natural Resources Program Manager – got a bit of recognition. Other district and headquarters staff were also on hand, along with many parks stakeholders and members of the media, to learn more about the effort, share in the celebration, and show their support.

And by the end of the gathering Friday, there had been high fives, hugs, handshakes and a toast to celebrate the moment. We all enjoyed a day to celebrate our partnership and the world class resources it’s destined to protect.

To view the full ceremony, please visit www.parks.ca.gov/RedwoodsRisingVideo or enjoy the video below.

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