Cascade Creek Redwoods
Save the Redwoods League was well on its way toward purchasing the Cascade Creek property before the summer’s devastating fires. Photo courtesy Save the Redwoods League

Though wildfires blazed through Cascade Creek in the summer of 2020, signs of nature’s resurgence are already showing. Many second-growth redwoods and some of the underbrush are sprouting as winter brings a welcome, wetter time.

For years, Save the Redwoods League has sought to attain Cascade Creek, which contains a sprawling mix of second- and old-growth redwoods. Before the CZU Lightning complex fires raged, the league had already reached a deal with landowners. On Dec. 9, the league officially announced the purchase of the property’s 564 acres, located between Big Basin Redwoods and Año Nuevo state parks, for $9.6 million. It bought the property from the Holmes family, which tended the land for decades and wanted to ensure it would be protected and public for future generations, league officials say.

“This year’s fires have amplified our need to protect the coast redwood forest,” league President and CEO Sam Hodder said in a press release. “We need resilient habitat in the face of a changing climate. Cascade Creek contains mature second-growth redwoods and more than 100 acres of old-growth redwoods. It is a forest that — once recovered — will be a refuge of green, carbon-rich stability in a fire-impacted landscape.”

Cascade Creek is the fourth property the league has purchased since it launched its Forever Forest campaign in 2017. The other protected redwoods and sequoia areas include Alder Creek, Red Hill and Harold Richardson Redwood Reserve. Its goal is to raise $120 million in private support to drive its Centennial Vision for Redwoods Conservation. More than half of those funds, $65 million, are meant for buying land to protect redwoods and sequoia forests.

The other half supports forest restoration and education projects. The league takes over Cascade Creek after an unprecedented fire season in the summer of 2020. According to data from Cal Fire, more than 4 million acres burned across California last year. The CZU Lightning Complex fires accounted for 86,509 burned acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, damaging 140 structures and destroying 1,490 more in 37 days.

The league’s Chief Program Officer Paul Ringgold explained that the elevated ridgetops burned more extensively because of the vegetation there, largely manzanita and chaparral. Meanwhile, the lowland containing conifers and redwoods saw “a mix of low- to high-intensities,” and was not hit quite as hard.

Still, the league has much work to do throughout the property. Mature and old-growth redwoods have thick bark that is resistant to fires. Second-growth forests, which make up 93 percent of the coastal redwoods today, according to the league, are younger, grow more densely together and don’t have as much time to develop thick bark, making them more susceptible to the flames. The league’s rehabilitation efforts focus on both short- and long-term goals.

First, it’s dealing with erosion and runoff from “hydrophobic” soil on bare slopes. “We have already gone in and done immediate post-fire erosion control,” Ringgold said. We’ve repaired the roads, cleared out channel crossings and culverts. We’ve basically done the emergency, near-team, post-fire follow-up to make sure the erosion is minimized.”

In the long term, the league will let the forest recover naturally while still monitoring the progress and managing invasive species. At some point, the league plans to turn management over to California State Parks.

“This year’s blazes underscore the critical need to protect our redwood forestland and invest in science-based forest stewardship now,” Hodder said. “This work will protect California’s redwood forests — and our neighboring communities — to ensure the collective resilience of our forests and people in the years to come.”

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