Wildfires are often the tragic manifestation of our global climate crisis. While we cannot be certain that is the case here, it seems likely that this global crisis has struck close to home. This past weekend’s extraordinary weather event, with thousands of lightning strikes, wreaked havoc and destruction on California’s forests and communities and choked our air. Tens of thousands of acres of land are ablaze, hundreds of thousands of people are in communities that have been harmed, and millions are breathing smoke and ash at a time when they are already vulnerable from the global pandemic. It feels apocalyptic.
We grieve for those that have been injured and displaced. We are awestruck by, and forever grateful for, the valiant fortitude of the firefighters and response crews battling these blazes from land and air. And we are grateful to see our communities, supporters, and partners already coming together to support one another.
For Sempervirens Fund, these wildfires strike at the heart of our legacy as a forest conservation organization and the state’s first land trust. We were founded in 1900 to advocate for the State of California to purchase coast redwood forests to prevent them from being destroyed to satiate the voracious demand for lumber at the time. Our origin story is forever intertwined with the establishment of the iconic Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s first state park. And Big Basin’s origin story is forever intertwined with that of the creation of California’s State Park System – which has been a model that inspired many other networks of protected land around the nation.
We are devastated to report that Big Basin, as we have known it, loved it, and cherished it for generations, is gone. Early reports are that the wildfire has consumed much of the park’s historic facilities. We do not yet know the fate of the park’s grandest old trees.
UPDATE: Donate to the Big Basin Recovery Fund.
We feel like we have lost an old friend. And we imagine that many of you will feel the same way. For millions of people, Big Basin is the place where they first experienced the majesty of the redwoods—where they were humbled and inspired standing amidst a grove of towering trees that have stood resolute for thousands of years. Those memories will live on.
With the steadfast support of our community, we have purchased more than 35,000 acres of redwoods forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains since Big Basin was established. Some of that land is now part of other beloved redwood state parks like Butano, Henry Cowell, Portola Redwoods, and Castle Rock or park-like properties that we still own, such as the San Vicente Redwoods. Reports are that many of these redwood forests have experienced catastrophic burning as well. More than half of the land we’ve protected was added to Big Basin itself, including the addition of the family camp at Little Basin. Our name is synonymous with the trees (Sequoia Sempervirens is the Latin name for the species), as well as Sempervirens Falls in Big Basin and Sempervirens Point in Castle Rock.
UPDATE: Donate to the Santa Cruz Redwood Restoration Fund.
Stepping into the iconic visitor buildings and re-reading the plaques and signs that told Big Basin’s story—it was always like coming home. Pieces of this tremendous history may have been lost with the destruction of the classic facilities at Big Basin, but redwood forests are resilient and fire-adapted and so are the people of California. Big Basin, in particular, has benefited from the longest, continuous program of prescribed burning anywhere in the state since the purposeful burning done by indigenous people who tended this landscape for thousands of years. In 1904, the New York Times reported that California was once again ablaze and that Big Basin, “which contains some of the largest and finest redwoods trees in the State, seems doomed for destruction.” Big Basin recovered and we are confident that it will be reborn from the ashes and once again be a place that inspires and educates people from around the world.
When Big Basin was first established, it was the catalyst for a conservation movement and a park system that were groundbreaking. In rebuilding Big Basin, we hope it is a catalyst for a new movement, one in which we learn to coexist with wildfire and deal directly with the impacts of climate change.
But that is tomorrow. Today we reflect, and grieve, and celebrate our memories. Join us and share photos and remembrances of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
DEDICATED TREES AND GROVES
For generations, people have made lasting tributes, celebrated milestones, and honored time spent in beloved redwoods, by dedicating a tree or grove in honor, memory, or celebration of loved ones. These dedications have, in turn, supported our work, and we thank you. Sempervirens Fund has been honored to steward these dedications and tributes across the Santa Cruz Mountains, including at Big Basin.
Tributes will likely have been impacted by the fires. We will be able to make detailed assessments once it is safe for staff to enter the park. For the moment our focus is on supporting the efforts of emergency responders to protect lives, property, and put out the fires. When we can, we will be in touch with you about these special places. We appreciate your patience. Until then, please know that we are thinking of you.
Our commitment to the coast redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains has been unwavering and remains undiminished. When you work to conserve trees that live thousands of years, with an organization that has been at it over 100 years, you are contributing to a legacy that is important, that spans generations, and that will outlast any one of us. And our partners, the Amah Mutsun and Muwekma Tribes have a much longer perspective. Their ancestors cared for these forests for millennia. What we now call “prescribed burns” was common practice for the people of this land, who were obligated by the creator to care for nature.
This is a turning point for the coast redwoods, mountain habitats, the communities that live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the people that enjoy them, and for our own organization. The lands we have known so well—and walked, saved, and sweated over with many of you—are being transformed.
We do not know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that coast redwoods are remarkably resilient, thrive even during adverse conditions, and are naturally fire-adaptive. We intend to be here for the forests we protected in the past to see that they rise to the skies once more. We will work with our partners to bring forward the cutting-edge science and best practices of the past, as well as traditional indigenous practices that for too-long have been ignored, to generate more effective management plans for our forests. And we will work to secure the investments that will support a resilient future for healthy, thriving redwood forests for the next generations to marvel at in awe.
- California’s Oldest State Park And Its Redwoods Devastated By Fire (News & Guts, 8/23/20)
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s Oldest State Park, ‘Extensively Damaged’ by Raging Wildfires (TIME, 8/22/20)
- Big Basin Redwoods, California’s oldest state park, devastated by CZU Lightning Complex; Fate of ancient trees unknown (KGO, 8/22/20)
- Los Altos-based Sempervirens Fund responds to wildfire damage to Big Basin (Los Altos Town Crier, 8/22/20)
- Exclusive look: Inside what is left of California’s historic Big Basin State Park in the heart of Bay Area wildfires (Mercury News, Updated 8/21/20)
- ‘It’s Hard to See Your Memories Burn’: Loss From Wildfires Grows in California (New York Times, 8/21/20)
- Massive California Wildfires Burn Area Larger Than Rhode Island (Los Angeles Times, 8/21/20)
- Fire wipes out Big Basin State Park’s historic buildings (SF Gate, 8/21/20)
- The historic Big Basin Redwoods State Park has been badly damaged by fire (New York Times, 8/20/20)
- Wildfire destroys historic buildings at Big Basin State Park, some redwoods damaged (Mercury News, 8/20/20)
- Wildfire damages much of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Fate of big trees unknown (Los Angeles Times, 8/20/20)
Big Basin, Home To Majestic Coast Redwoods, Is ‘Gone’ (KCBS Radio, 8/20/20)
100 Bay Area parks shut down by fires (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/20/20)
- Wildfires Burning Around California Prompt State Park Closures (CBS Sacramento, 8/19/20)
Relentless wildfires are transforming the Santa Cruz Mountains as we speak and we hope you are safe in this extraordinary moment. Evacuations are underway as 40,000 acres burn. If you or anyone you know are in the area, please be sure to heed evacuation and other public safety orders. You can follow: