Page 1

from leaf to landscape

Redwoods & CLIMATe Change

Initiative An Urgent QUEST FOR Discovery to Protect Our Ancient Forests

for the Future


PROBLEM: The redwoods — Earth’s ancient giants — stand at a new

crossroads of environmental change where urbanization, habitat fragmentation, pollution, invasive species and climatic changes threaten them in ways they have not yet experienced in their long history on Earth.

OPPORTUNITY: Recent advances enable Save the Redwoods League and a team of pioneering scientists to unlock the record of environmental changes stored in redwood tree rings. From individual trees to whole forests, we will study redwood growth, vulnerabilities, early indicators of stress and how these trees might respond to predicted climate changes.

SOLUTION: The scientists’ findings

will help the League plan adaptation and mitigation strategies to help redwoods thrive well into the future. To achieve this goal, we need your support.

Photo: Randy Wells / Photographer’s Choice / Getty Images


“The impact of global environmental change is having profound consequences on all living things. We must protect the remnants of the glorious redwood range, in which a mere 5 percent of the original ancient forest remains. We can’t afford to wait or to make mistakes.”

One of Jerry Forest Franklin’s most delightful memories is of bouncing and swinging on vine maple as a 7-year-old in the shadows of immense, ancient trees. He recalls another treasured memory: “When I was probably 5, I took a hike in the old-growth forest with my dad, and he said, ‘Lie down on the trail and look up at the canopy,’” Franklin said. “He told me how different trees sound different in the wind. This memory goes very deep for me. I always had a sense that there was something very special about old-growth forests, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it until I was well into my professional career.” Since that day in the woods, Franklin

went on to build a 50-year career in forest science and management. He has gained worldwide recognition as an expert on the structure and function of natural forest ecosystems, especially old-growth forests. A Professor of Ecosystem Analysis in the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, Franklin also is Co-Chair of the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. This Initiative of Save the Redwoods League seeks to find a solution to a growing problem for Franklin’s beloved old-growth woods and other forests worldwide.

— Initiative Co-Chair Jerry Franklin, PhD, Professor of Ecosystem Analysis, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, and League Councillor

More than 144 million years ago, amid the dinosaurs, redwoods’ ancestors flourished across the globe. Over time


and in response to an ever-changing climate, they retreated from the vast majority of their range.

Photo: Jim Lutz Initiative Co-Chair Jerry Franklin, PhD, Professor of Ecosystem Analysis, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, said we must act now to protect redwoods from climate change.

Now, throughout the current redwood range, we are experiencing temperature increases, less coastal fog, reductions in snowpack and earlier snowmelt. Climate change will interact with many other stressors that the redwoods had not experienced before the Industrial Revolution, which many date to the 1780s. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, the hundreds of thousands of people who rushed to the state needed buildings, and redwoods were logged extensively to meet the demand.

By the 1960s, only a small fraction of the original 2 million acres of ancient coast redwood forest remained. In addition to this extensive logging, humans introduced other stressors to the redwood forest, including invasive species, fire suppression, air pollution and habitat fragmentation. Today, redwoods stand at a critical point. The current and projected interactions of these stressors jeopardize more than 90 years of League conservation work. We must act today to protect redwoods from these threats in the future.

Working on scales from leaves to landscapes, no other team of investigators in the world has the unique and complementary skills to conduct this integrated 10-year investigation of redwoods. The investigation is to include a network of forest plots that can be monitored for more than 100 years. This program will yield data-based solutions to protect redwoods in a changing world. Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

The Initiative’s team of scientists will install permanent forest plots throughout the coast redwood and giant sequoia ranges to study all aspects of the trees and forests.

What’s at Stake?

Amazing Giant Sequoias California’s enormous giant sequoia is the world’s most massive tree and one of the oldest and tallest. These trees can grow to more than 310 feet tall with a base diameter of up to 30 feet. The main trunk of Sequoia National Park’s General Sherman Tree contains about 52,500 cubic feet, which is roughly equivalent to 21,800 150-pound humans! Giant sequoias can live to be 3,000 years old.

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

Remarkable Coast Redwoods The tallest individual tree in the world is a coast redwood—at 379 feet tall, it stands taller than a 30-story building. California’s coast redwoods can grow more than 320 feet high with trunks more than 24 feet in diameter and can live for more than 2,000 years. Redwood forests store more carbon per hectare than any other forest on Earth.

Photo: Phil Schermeister



Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

Photo: George Koch

“The environmental changes redwoods are facing today are outside of anything they have experienced before. We simply must accelerate the rate of learning so we can give these giant trees the best chance of survival. We’ve got to help keep these forests healthy for the value they add as one of Earth’s major ecological communities and for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s what this is all about.” — Initiative Scientist Todd Dawson, Professor and Director, Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry, University of California, Berkeley, and League Councillor

Todd Dawson grew up in a family who loves the outdoors and took him to see the redwoods as a child. He was dazzled: “When you’re little, you look up and you just can’t believe how big redwood trees are.” Now he’s scaling the same heights to find answers for science, policymakers and the public. “We’ve got to get the word out — to help keep these forests healthy for another 100 million years and to keep them for our grandchildren and great grandchildren and theirs. That’s what this is all about,” Dawson said. An environmental biologist for 35 years, Dawson is a Professor and Director of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry. He is a lead scientist in the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, sponsored by Save the Redwoods League. Dawson has researched trees on every continent where they exist, and he has spent nearly 25 years

helping to develop new methods for analyzing the isotopes of carbon and oxygen in leaves and in tree rings to understand how trees respond to the environment. He also has served on the League’s Board of Councillors since 2001. The Redwood Canopy: Previously Unexplored Dawson’s colleague and the other lead scientist in the Initiative is Stephen C. Sillett. Redwoods have riveted his attention for decades as well. At age 19, he climbed 300 feet to the top of his first redwood. Up there, he found a remarkable forest within a forest, complete with huckleberry bushes and even small trees. Since then, he and his Humboldt State University students have been climbing the giant trees and discovering crowns supporting a rich community of life. Sillett and his team have changed the way scientists look at redwood forests. Now, Sillett, the Kenneth L. Fisher


“Super-tall treetops are extremely sensitive to climate and therefore are excellent barometers of change. We also can use tree rings to go back thousands of years, and now we can measure with great accuracy not only wood production and carbon sequestration, but also tree age and annual growth history.” — Initiative Scientist Stephen C. Sillett, Kenneth L. Fisher Chair in Redwood Forest Ecology, Humboldt State University

Chair in Redwood Forest Ecology at Humboldt State, is recognized as a redwoods expert, and his ongoing research extends to all five tree species reaching heights over 300 feet. Dawson and Sillett are harnessing their passion to help these great trees endure human-related threats that coast redwoods and giant sequoias have not experienced before: a unique mosaic of increasing urbanization, pollution, habitat fragmentation, invasive species and rapid climatic changes, which all impose unknown challenges for redwoods.

An Innovative Partnership Save the Redwoods League has united Sillett, Dawson and two other scientists—Humboldt State’s Robert Van Pelt and UC Berkeley’s Anthony Ambrose—to launch the Initiative. Over the last 15 years, Sillett and Van Pelt have developed accurate methods to structurally map tall tree crowns to quantify leaves, bark, cambium, wood and annual growth at the whole-tree level. They are now extending this approach to the stand level within 1-hectare (2.2-acre) permanent plots in old-growth forests throughout the

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

ranges of both California redwood species. Ambrose has spent the last 12 years working closely with Sillett, Van Pelt and Dawson on monitoring redwood canopy microclimates and examining how redwood tree growth, or physiological responses to climate and water stress, changes with tree size and age. An ambitious program of applied science, conservation monitoring and research rooted in the coast redwoods and giant sequoias, this integrated Initiative will enable us to build a comprehensive understanding of redwood forest ecosystems from

Photo: Marie Antoine

“The only way we can craft sensible adaptation and mitigation strategies for redwoods is to have the scientific data. We need to know how trees have responded to past climate change and also how they are responding today. Those data can be used to shape new public policies, inform the purchase of new lands and develop adaptive management strategies for redwoods long into the future.” — Initiative Scientist Anthony Ambrose, Research Scientist, Department of Integrative Biology and Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry, University of California, Berkeley


“The Initiative’s team of scientists is truly a worldclass group that can deliver the data that will not only change forest climate research in western North America, but throughout the globe.” — Initiative Co-Chair Jerry Franklin, Professor of Ecosystem Analysis, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington

Coast redwood leaves hang by a thread. Facing a variety of humanrelated threats including rapid climate change, the future is tenuous for the species’ health.

The 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy calls for using the best science to protect biodiversity. “Baseline data and impacts should be studied,” the report states. “For example, Save the Redwoods League ... should track and monitor old-growth forest responses to climate change and use the information to establish baseline records for potential landscape-level impacts.”

which we can make enlightened management recommendations for the future. The Initiative also promises to serve as a model for studying and protecting other ecosystems throughout California, the Pacific Northwest and the world. Groundbreaking Investigation Enabling this extraordinary team of scientists at this tipping point in redwoods’ history is a rare opportunity to understand and protect the two iconic species that create Earth’s tallest forests. Nothing like this has ever been attempted, and now the need for the study is urgent. No

other team of investigators has the unique and complementary skills to conduct this integrated investigation of redwoods. The Initiative will yield results that quantify redwoods’ vulnerabilities to climatic changes and their capacities to mitigate these changes via photosynthesis, fog interception, wood production and carbon sequestration. The Initiative’s scientists are uniquely qualified, in part, because they have developed many of the methods to obtain the study’s data.

2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy, A Report to the Governor of the State of California in Response to Executive Order S-13-2008

The scientists are installing 16 permanent one-hectare research


plots throughout the geographic ranges of both California redwood species. They are combining treeand forest-level measurements with tree-ring data to calculate whole-tree and whole-forest rates of annual wood production back 1,000 years. These measurements will help the team predict tree and forest growth in response to changing climates. Back Through Millennia The structural measurements and annual growth rings also will enable accurate estimation of tree ages, the first available for tall standing redwoods. Analysis of the stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in the tree rings in state-of-the-art facilities will enable the team to reconstruct past climates and learn how redwoods respond to environmental conditions, including precipitation, temperature and

humidity. These analyses will provide critical information on how redwoods throughout California are not only responding to current conditions but also how they have responded to climates over past millennia. Right now the team’s cross-dated dendrochronology record extends back over 1,000 years for both species. Additional sampling of fallen trees will enable extension of this amazing record back at least another 1,000 years. Tall Harbingers With increasing height, treetops become increasingly sensitive to environmental conditions, and therefore the tallest redwoods may provide an early indication of climate change impacts. In addition to quantifying tree age, growth and structure, the research team is installing tree-top and ground-level

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

microclimate monitoring systems to measure temperature, humidity, rain, snow, fog, light, wind and barometric pressure, which will enable realtime monitoring of environmental conditions at each study site. In the Greenhouse By manipulating temperature, carbon dioxide and water in greenhouse experiments, the scientists will examine how redwood seedlings and saplings from different parts of the two species’ ranges might react to climatic changes. They also will quantify carbon and oxygen isotopes in experimental trees in the greenhouse and compare responses to those evident in taller standing trees within the 16 research plots.

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology involves firing a laser beam from a plane and recording the reflection to measure the height of trees and other structural features of the canopy (left). More accurate than traditional measurements, LiDAR is improving the League’s ability to determine the number and size of redwoods across the range and will be used to scale-up wood production and carbon storage dynamics from trees to landscapes.

Map: Robert Van Pelt and Bill Kruse


Mapping Tree Crowns The core science team will map tree crowns to quantify leaves, bark, wood and growth rates for whole trees, whole forests, and ultimately entire landscapes. These efforts allow the team to monitor tree and forest responses to environmental stresses and provide a powerful assessment of redwoods’ capacity to store carbon in long-lasting, decay-resistant heartwood.

Map: Stephen C. Sillett and Robert Van Pelt

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

The Core Science Team Anthony Ambrose, PhD, Research Scientist, Department of Integrative Biology and Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry, University of California, Berkeley Todd Dawson, PhD, Professor and Director, Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry, University of California, Berkeley Stephen C. Sillett, PhD, Kenneth L. Fisher Chair in Redwood Forest Ecology, Humboldt State University Robert Van Pelt, PhD, Adjunct Professor and Research Scientist, Institute for Redwood Ecology, Humboldt State University

Initiative scientist Anthony Ambrose examines redwood core samples. Annual growth rings of redwoods in core samples (like the one shown) can be accurately dated back over 1,000 years, and corresponding stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in the wood enable the scientific team to learn about environmental conditions and tree growth patterns over time. The team uses growth rings and isotopes to study changes in temperature, humidity, rainfall and fog and how the trees responded to those factors before and after the Industrial Revolution.

Photo: Peter Buranzon


Mapping Tree and Forest Structure In each 1-hectare research plot, the science team will map tree and forest structure and measure above-ground carbon in logs, trees and other vegetation. The team also will monitor canopy and forest floor climatic conditions and use dendrochronology as well as regular remeasurements to quantify tree- and stand-level growth through time.

Map: Robert Van Pelt

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

Initiative scientist Robert Van Pelt is an Adjunct Professor and Research Scientist in the Institute for Redwood Ecology at Humboldt State University. He and Initiative scientist Stephen Sillett have developed methods to quantify leaves, bark, cambium, wood and annual growth at the whole-tree level. They are extending this approach to the stand level in permanent plots in old-growth forests.

Photo: Peter Buranzon


Scientists are concerned that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns may reduce the annual snowpack on which giant sequoias depend. The changes also may cause the Sierra snowpack to melt earlier in the spring, lengthening the dry season.

Photo: Matthew Lee High, Flickr Creative Commons

Current Range Coast Redwood


“Optimistic” Scenario 2090–2100


“Pessimistic” Scenario 2090–2100


Forecasting Redwoods’ Future With support from Save the Redwoods League, biologists at the California Academy of Sciences are modeling the impact of climate change on the future distribution of coast redwood forests. A “climate envelope” is constructed using temperatures and precipitation levels in the trees’ current range. Academy scientists then use climate models to forecast the future location of the climate envelope redwoods need to survive. Climate models are run under scenarios with different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Under an “optimistic” outcome, in which CO2 levels in the atmosphere remain relatively low, much of the current coast redwood habitat remains. Under a “pessimistic” outcome, in which we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, much of the current habitat for coast redwoods is no longer suitable. In addition to informing strategies for conservation planning, these results demonstrate that reductions of emissions today will affect the future survival of coast redwoods.


The Solution

“We look forward to deepening our knowledge of how oldgrowth redwoods respond to climate change by supporting this 10-year research project by Save the Redwoods League. This work will help us understand how to protect and sustain these ancient treasures, and we applaud the League for leading this exciting and innovative project.” — Reed Holderman, Executive Director, Sempervirens Fund

Photo: Peter Buranzon

“There is a direct relationship between the depth of our understanding of climate change’s past, present and predicted effect on these trees and our ability to create future solutions for their survival. I believe this Initiative will be truly transformational for redwood science and for forests throughout the world.” —Ken Fisher, Co-Chair, Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative Philanthropist Ken Fisher’s love for redwoods is rooted in his experiences growing up with them up in California. He calls the ancient giants “the world’s most spectacular trees.” Another constant in Fisher’s life is the pursuit and support of transformational activities —“activities that fundamentally change something so things are never quite the same as they were before that activity,” he said. In the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, Fisher found the embodiment of these two priorities in his life: redwoods and transformation. That is why he has generously offered to match—up to $500,000 —every gift made to the program.

Founder of Fisher Investments, Fisher is Co-Chair of the Initiative’s Task Force and an expert on 19thcentury logging. He said the Initiative continues the League’s tradition of transformation, which started with the organization’s establishment in 1918. “There would be many fewer giant trees if it weren’t for the League,” Fisher said. “The League was there at the right time before there was a voice for protecting any of these trees in a massive way.” Now it is time to protect the trees from new, rapid environmental change. Fisher and other members of the Initiative Task Force are helping us lead the way.

Strategies for Survival Possible ways the Initiative findings could help redwoods survive in the future include •

Protecting cooler and moister habitats so the trees will have a place to grow if their current range becomes too warm or dry

Guiding economic incentives for sustainable logging practices

Developing more sophisticated water and buffer management in the forecasted redwood range, in partnership with redwood forest landowners

Informing new public policy


In addition to scientific findings, your support also will yield something very unscientific: the continuation of an extraordinary expression of life that began more than 100 million years ago.

Outcomes of the Initiative •

Gain the critical data necessary to develop strategies for helping redwoods adapt to rapid environmental changes, thereby protecting the diverse ecosystems they define

Understand how restoration techniques can utilize carbon storage potential in the redwoods

Focus our conservation work in the places that need it most

Preserve watersheds to benefit redwood ecosystems, wildlife and people

Restore forests for the future

Gather data to inform sound public policy and conservation management strategies

Create a model for studying and protecting other forest ecosystems in California, the Pacific Northwest and the world

Inspire renewed hope for future generations to experience the wonder of ancient redwood forests

from salmon to the marbled murrelet. While the League and its supporters have made extraordinary advances by saving forests from overharvesting and development, the inevitability of climate change threatens not only the victories of the past, but also the health of the redwoods today and in the future.

Help Save the Redwoods League Meet the Challenge of Our Day In 1918, a dedicated group of people came together to protect the oldest and most magnificent stands of redwoods from destruction, and Save the Redwoods League was born. Over time, the League has pioneered the protection of these magnificent giants, helping develop 62 parks and reserves and protecting more than 187,000 acres, often setting aside entire watersheds, ridge to ridge. These special sanctuaries protect clean water and air, and provide habitat for threatened animals,

Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

Your support of the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative will provide the research needed, from leaf to landscape, to help us guide redwoods through sweeping environmental changes.

“This Initiative is important because saving redwoods saves other ancient species. Redwoods are an umbrella species covering many other ancient life forms, including amphibians.” — David Wake, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, and Member, Initiative Task Force


With Your Help, the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative Will Succeed Integrity The Integrity of the Initiative lies in the integrated nature of the collaboration. The best redwood scientists in the world will develop and use established protocols and cutting-edge technology, linking groundbased data, watershed plots and airplanebased LiDAR data to scale up the findings. Power The Power of the Initiative is that the data will inform models to understand the past, analyze impacts of current environmental changes, and help develop adaptive strategies for the future. PASSION The Passion for the Initiative is reflected in the League’s more than 90-year history of success in protecting the redwoods. We must protect the existing redwood forests and work to ensure the future of the species. Save the Redwoods League | Climate Change Initiative

“We are doing things today that will benefit our children’s children. I feel grateful today for the work that was done 90 years ago by people that I’ll never meet. Their hard work and foresight helped protect the redwoods and places that inspire me the most. This Initiative promises to have a similar impact on the future.” —Ruskin K. Hartley, Executive Director, Save the Redwoods League

Support This Initiative This Initiative is designed as a 10 -year study, with meaningful results to be delivered throughout the investigation. With adequate funding, the research plots have the potential to yield useful data for 100 years and beyond. Your donation is a part of the solution. Please donate today, and double the impact of your gift with Ken Fisher’s matching funds. (415) 362-2352 Save the Redwoods League 114 Sansome Street, Suite 1200 San Francisco, CA 94104 -3823 For more information on the science behind the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, visit


“The League was founded by people from diverse backgrounds, including scientists, who united to protect the redwoods from destruction. Through this Initiative, our redwoods protection work will continue to be grounded in the best possible scientific knowledge to ensure today’s seedlings will be the amazing ancient giants of the future.” — Peggy Coe Light, Member, League Board of Directors and Initiative Task Force Through the Initiative, help ensure today’s young redwoods will attain magnificence like these in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The League has protected more than 50,000 acres here.

Photo: Michael Nichols/National Geographic Image Collection

Some of Our Collaborating Partners Humboldt State University University of California, Berkeley California Academy of Sciences California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection California State Parks Kruse Imaging National Park Service Sempervirens Fund US Forest Service US Geological Survey

Save the Redwoods League 114 Sansome Street, Suite 1200 San Francisco, CA 94104-3823 Telephone: (415) 362-2352 Toll-Free: (888) 836-0005 Fax: (415) 362-7017 Cover Photo: Joseph T. Ryczaj

Printed on paper containing 30 percent post-consumer recycled fiber. Paper also is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

RCCI: Redwoods & Climate Change Initiative brochure  

An urgent quest for discovery to protect our ancient forests for the future.