Anderson Design Group Interviews Save the Redwoods League!
Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve. Photo by Max Forster @maxforsterphotography, courtesy of Save the Redwoods League
As artists and wilderness explorers, our passion is to venture into the 63 American National Parks, photograph and document these wonderful natural places, and share our enthusiasm for our nation’s natural wonders by creating original, high-quality poster art.
Truly America’s Best Idea, the National Parks were created to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and cultural history. Each park represents a significant chapter in a story that predates the United States. To do our part as stewards of the parks, we’re always seeking new opportunities to support the conservancies, associations, foundations, and friend groups that protect the parks.
To raise awareness for the important conservation activities in Redwood National Park and other parts of California where one can find redwood forests and giant sequoia trees, we took some time this week to sit down with Laura Lalemand, Senior Scientist at Save the Redwoods League.
Save the Redwoods League
ADG: Thanks for sitting down with us, Laura! What is the Save the Redwoods League? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?
Laura: Thanks for having me! We're a nonprofit that specializes in coast redwood and giant sequoia conservation. Our work is grounded in science and our three core mandates are Protect, Restore, Connect:
‘Protect’ involves purchasing properties, including thousands of acres of redwood forest and sequoia groves. We’ve helped create 66 redwood parks and preserves across California. We work to put as much land as possible into conservation protection – whether as a park or reserve – under Native, Tribal, or Indigenous-stewardship, a conservation easement, or under Save the Redwoods League ownership and stewardship. Strong partnerships with public agencies, Tribal partners, and private landowners are a huge part of this work.
‘Restore’ means we have multiple active restoration programs, including collaborative restoration projects within parks including activities such as removing legacy logging roads, implementing stream restoration, and doing restorative thinning. We take a landscape-scale approach to our work, always working to consider the redwood ecosystem and watershed rather than just the trees.
‘Connect’ means we implement education programs and support park programs that get people, especially children from underrepresented communities, into the forests. We help fund and organize youth programs like the Redwoods to the Sea program. We also send education staff to schools to teach courses on redwoods and sequoias.
Scientists completed sequencing the coast redwood and giant sequoia genomes. Photo by Will Kirk of Homewood Photography (JHU)
ADG: That’s amazing! I understand you do a great deal of work with the redwoods in and around Redwood National Park, but your group is also in charge of funding and managing programs and activities outside the park, correct? What are some of those programs?
Laura: Oh, for sure! We have projects across the coast redwood range – from Big Sur to the Oregon border. And our work with the giant sequoias goes throughout the Sierras. We’re involved in a large-scale restoration project with Redwood National Park and California State Parks called Redwoods Rising. For that project, we’re committed to restoring 70,000 acres of 2nd and 3rd growth redwood forests. We also do a lot of stream restoration work in redwood forests. For example, one of the major creeks we have been working on with Redwoods Rising is Prairie Creek, an important salmon creek. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is the 2nd largest grove of existing redwood forest.
Save the Redwoods League, California State Parks, and National Park Service staff touring a Redwoods Rising restoration site in Redwood National and State Parks. Photo by Max Forster
Along this creek is also where we’re working on the Redwood Trails Gateway project, an integrated trail hub and stream restoration project on an old mill site that the League currently owns and is stewarding. The gateway will connect with trails in the area, provide new and culturally-inclusive interpretation, and, in the process, create a new section of the California Coastal Trail. We’ve also partnered with the Yurok Tribe who are local leaders in stream restoration work. The Tribe has been super involved with developing the interpretation for the site and planning for Tribal-led education programs. The Yurok Tribe has the largest membership in California for a federally recognized tribe, and the Yurok Tribe (north coast tribes) were some of the last tribes in California to be contacted by Euro-American settlers. It’s been an honor to work with our tribal partners.
ADG: Those sound like great programs! How did the Save the Redwoods League get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?
Laura: The boom in the 1800s of massive logging efforts in the region and the over-logging of the coastal redwoods made it clear to some the need to protect these forests. Save the Redwoods League was founded in 1918, but while the men in charge of the movement took much of the spotlight then, there was a coordinated network of women’s groups working on the grassroots level to garner support for redwood forest conservation. Laura Mahan, in particular, comes to mind, as she formed the Women’s Save the Redwoods League. These women were a strong force in the region. They were influential, and because they were often the wives of loggers, they could speak to the nuanced challenges around the need for lumber and the need to conserve the forests. In so many ways, we have them to thank for this early conservation work because they were the organizers who raised awareness for the need to conserve forests, a concept still quite foreign at the time.
ADG: Great history! What types of projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the projects you’re most proud of?
Laura: I could list several, but two, in particular, stand out. The Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition is a great project we’ve been working on. There’s a dire emergency with the combined impacts of increased wildfires and drought due to climate change, and past land management. These trees have been getting hit hard, even though they’re usually pretty fire resilient. We’ve lost up to 20% of all large giant sequoia trees to fires in the last few years. The Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition goals are threefold: Learn, Rally, Act. Our Learn group focuses on giant sequoia research to help identify the largest priorities and develop effective approaches to forest restoration, reforestation, and conservation. The Act group focuses on on-the-ground planning and operations. The Rally group communicates about the urgency of the situation to build public support and create policy that better serves these forests into the future. A big part of what the League contributes to in the coalition is policy work to create great opportunities for on-the-ground work like forest restoration and controlled burns. We’re also involved in reforestation and planting experiments where we are targeting different seed mixes to see which groups do better in a hotter and drier climate, which we can expect as climate change advances.
Another project we’re working on is partnering with Indigenous tribes on the Land Back efforts. The first land return project we took part in was in 2012 with the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. The Sinkyone Council represents ten federally recognized tribes in Northern California. For the project, the League transferred a 164-acre property to the council, The Four Corners Property. Giving land back to Indigenous communities creates opportunities for the original stewards of these lands to protect and care for them. It also opens a door for Indigenous communities to practice their traditional ways with access and connection to important cultural landscapes.
In 2020 we completed another partnership project with the same Tribal group on a 523-acre property called Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, which means “Fish Run Place” in the Sinkyone language. The League donated this land to the Sinkyone Council, and the Council granted the League a conservation easement as part of the funder’s requirements.
When looking for opportunities to partner with tribes, we have three key questions, “Do the interests overlap with our forest conservation mission? Can we acquire permanent protections for the forest in this instance? Do we have a funding pathway to help cover the costs of the transaction to get this forest land over to the tribes?” We will try to move forward with the project if we can meet those qualifiers.
ADG: Incredible! And I understand your group helps fund and manage research projects. What would an example of such a research project be? And why are research projects in our National Parks and wilderness lands important?
Laura: We have multiple types of research we support. We work with competitive research grants, one for Redwood Research Grants and another for the Student Starter Grants, which are for students from underrepresented groups in STEM. These research grant projects currently range in topics from post-fire recovery in coast redwood and giant sequoia forests, to projects on wildlife like spotted owls and rare salamanders, and to stomata function and fog absorption. We have a small number of in-house researchers, and we also solicit other research groups to partner with us on pressing redwood research questions that we need to inform our work.
Grove of Titans Trail Reconstruction Project, August 2021. Photo by Max Forster, @maxforsterphotography
Other research projects we are currently funding are our Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, redwood mortality research, and redwood genome projects. We currently have about 30 research projects in the hopper, with our annual grant cycles.
The more we learn and can answer questions about the forests, the better we can conserve them. We also strive to act as a connector for the researchers. We also try to create opportunities for new redwood researchers. People who are interested in our research grants should check out our Research Grant Program.
ADG: That’s great to hear! Given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the community’s help in these projects? Do you organize volunteers? Or how do you otherwise fund your work?
2019 Redwoods Rising Apprentices. Photo by Save the Redwoods League
Laura: We sometimes host community events at our various conservation sites. For example, one such event was in the town of Orick, a community right outside Redwood National Park. That was a program we hosted to get the community aware of and involved in our Trails Gateway Project, particularly the restoration of the 125-acre Orick Mill Site, located in Yurok ancestral lands. Community members came to the open house event to learn about what we were doing, and have an opportunity to ask questions and share their comments.
We also fund an apprenticeship program for local college students to come work alongside park professionals. These students can spend their summer working on Redwoods Rising restoration, and we get to help create the next generation of conservationists, restoration practitioners, and land stewards. We often match volunteer requests with partner organizations who are greatly in need of the support and also have programs in place creating engaging volunteer opportunities. A lot of what we bring to our partnerships is project management, philanthropy, communication, fundraising, grant organization, greater flexibility, and technical expertise. When people donate to Save the Redwoods League, that’s where their money is going.
ADG: Well done! What goes on in the educational side of Save the Redwoods League? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?
Laura: We have a K-12 redwoods curriculum we’ve developed. It’s free to the public and can be delivered anywhere in any school. It’s a curriculum about California forests, forestry, conservation, and restoration that we’ve put in partnership with other forest ecologists and educators. It’s great, available to anyone, and can be accessed online. We also have education grant programs (these are non-research grants) where we support and fund youth field trips to outdoor spaces. We also started an educational podcast during the pandemic called “I’ll Go if You Go.” The podcast highlights the many groups who visit the redwoods and what they enjoy about the parks, informing others about the parks and forests and getting them excited to go out and experience them.
Kindergarten students from Dow’s Prairie Elementary School visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo credit to Victoria Reeder
ADG: Amazing. We love a good podcast! Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for Save the Redwoods League? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?
Laura: Oh, for sure! We recently created a 100-year Centennial Vision, and right now we’re working to tie our five- and ten-year plans into it. I can give you a direct quote from our Centennial Vision we put together following our 100th-anniversary in 2018. It goes something like this:
“The League’s Centennial Vision for Redwoods Conservation is to actively work toward accelerating the pace and scale of redwoods conservation, to restore redwood and sequoia forests, putting young redwoods on a path toward old-growth forest form and function and working to restore wildfire resilience in the giant sequoia range through fuels management, controlled fires, and other practices, and to connect all people with these forests through education, interpretation, and world-class park experiences.”
ADG: “Our artists have created a great deal of redwoods poster art and sequoia art within our National Park poster art collection. Are there any other angles or sides to these beautiful trees and the National Parks that conserve them you’d like to see art of? Other ways we might best capture the park in our art?”
Laura: Yeah, I have some ideas on this! From an ecology standpoint, the coast redwoods have fascinating arboreal communities. You get fern mats in the canopy, and so many critters live up there, like salamanders and tree voles. I’d love to see art related to these canopy communities because art rarely expresses that. From a human’s view, an artistic look of the canopy from below would be really neat with your poster design. I’d also like to see art of a giant sequoia with healthy fire around it, demonstrating GOOD fire. Fire is an important piece of redwood forest conservation, and it would be great to incorporate fire into the art to show that fire is an important conservation tool.
ADG: Loving those ideas! If there would be one thing about your group or National Park conservation/restoration/education generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?
Reading the Redwoods contest. March 10 through May 10, 2018. Photo by Annie Burke
Laura: We want to encourage folks to come and experience these forests. See them. Get out in them. Experience them because when people experience them, they’ll make important connections with them, and will want to support conservation in these spaces. They’ll want to volunteer, donate, and vote in ways that support the ecosystems that we all ultimately rely on. But folks have to build the connection first. Once they connect with the park, they want to become more involved. And we’re here to do everything we can to help people find a way to explore and enjoy redwood parks.
Becky Bremser, director of land protection for Save the Redwoods League tours the 3,100-acre Lost Coast Redwoods property near Rockport, California on December 3, 2021. Photo by Max Whittaker, courtesy of Save the Redwoods League
ADG: Amazing, Laura. Thank you so much for your work, for ensuring these forests and natural spaces are here for generations, and for sitting down with us today. We will make more art of these spaces and celebrate them in the ways we know best!
Laura: Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure.
The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations, Friend Groups, and Conservation Leagues
You can learn more about Save the Redwoods League at their website. There, you can read about their many programs and their positive impact, and you can become a member to support their work in perpetuity.
If you represent a National Park Association, Foundation, History Association, Friend Group, or Conservancy that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to schedule an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, we’ll return to creating vintage poster art for Redwood National Park and other National Parks. Let’s enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.
Until next time,
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer
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