Record Breaking Redwoods Outside the Redwood National and State Parks?

1      Tall Forests – NASA Canopy Height Mapping

NASA maintains a global canopy height map on its website. This map is comprised of airplane based LIDAR mapping (2.4% of land mapped for canopy height) and satellite based “spectroradiometer” equipment (97.6% of land area mapped for canopy height). The canopy height is appropriately in shades of progressively darker green with the darkest green indicating at least eighty percent of the tree canopy in the area is over 70 meters (230 feet).   All the dark green areas in northern California are old growth redwood stands.   The average tree height in old growth stands in northern California is 250-300 feet, with maximum demonstrated individual tree height at 380 feet.   To see more on this subject see my posting on “Distribution of Tree Height in an Old Growth Redwood Forest”.

Below is a portion of the Global Canopy Height map that includes the area from Fortuna to Klamath. The dark green (old growth redwood) forests have been noted from north to south.   The old growth forests include Prairie Creek Redwoods and Redwood National Parks. No surprises there. However there are five additional areas with large enough tracts of old growth redwoods to be discernable on the global canopy height map.

You can click on the map to see a larger version.

NASA Global Canopy height map - Eureka to Klamath
NASA Global Canopy height map – Eureka to Klamath

2      Lesser Known Areas With Old Growth Redwood Forests

From north to south here are some comments on the lesser known areas with old growth redwoods forests.

Six Rivers National Forest High Prairie Creek Section and Yurok Redwood Experimental Forest

This area is low elevation and is protected from the ocean by a large ridge and has riparian zones along High Prairie Creek.   These are perfect conditions for large and tall redwoods and indeed there are many large tree crowns in this area as seen on Google Earth.

This area does not have any public access and most requests for special access will be declined.

This could be the best area for old growth redwoods between Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and the trees in this forest are representative of the redwoods found in those parks.

Yurok Experimental Forest and Six Rivers NF near Klamath
Yurok Experimental Forest and Six Rivers NF near Klamath (Google Earth view)

Private Holdings – GDRC and HRC

The GDRC dominates timber holdings north of Eureka while HRC has extensive holdings around Eureka and south.   Both these companies provide detailed publicly available management plans and holdings maps. Most of their holdings are managed second growth but they do have some old growth forests. Any old growth areas of three acres or more are voluntarily and permanently protected from harvesting and road construction by both of these companies.

I am not familiar with the access requirements for these areas but certainly written permission would be required from the respective company.

Headwaters Reserve

Some folks call this the “mysterious Headwaters Reserve”.   It was the scene of some famous forest protection protests in the 1990’s and culminated in 1999 with a $380 million purchase of 7,000 acres from the owning lumber company, of which 3,000 acres are old growth redwoods. The purchase was 100% taxpayer funded, $250 million from the Federal government and $130 million from the state of California. The Reserve is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Reserve does have public access though it is limited.   There is a north approach which requires a five mile hike or bike from a parking area to reach the heart of the reserve.   Then there is a south approach from near Fortuna that requires a reservation and meeting up with a representative of the reserve.

This reserve contains a few redwoods in the 340-350 feet height range. Undoubtedly there are exceptionally large diameter and volume trees in this reserve as well.

Headwaters Reserve low elevation north section (close in Google Earth view)
Headwaters Reserve low elevation north section (close in Google Earth view)

3      Record Breaking Redwoods Outside the Redwood State and National Parks?

Any of the lesser known areas highlighted above could hold a record breaking tall redwood tree. It is not likely but there is a chance. As one well known redwood explorer writes – “chance has potential”.

Based on the existing information on tallest redwoods, a super tall redwood can grow anywhere from near sea level to around 900 feet in elevation.   That covers a lot of ground. As long as the soil is good, there is some protection from wind from surrounding trees and hills, and there are year round water sources (nearby creeks, springs, and fog drip) a very tall redwood is a possibility.

Then to increase the possibility there needs to be a forest of trees growing in conditions for super tall redwoods. Each of the lesser known areas outlined above contains such a forest, as confirmed by the NASA global canopy height map.

For the same reasons there could also be very large (over 20,000 cubic feet) redwoods in these areas as well.

Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Record Breaking Redwoods Outside the Redwood National and State Parks?”

  1. Interesting comments about very tall trees off the beaten path, so to speak. Would be a challenge to get into areas like these and take a look! Maybe even discover a very tall one and give it a name!

    1. Thanks Mary Lou. For redwoods there is a lot left to discover off trail, that is for sure. Mark

  2. Thanks Mark, for the commentary and the satellite images-you obviously know redwoods very well ! I enjoy your narratives; they are quite interesting.

    1. Thanks Don. I was reading somewhere where redwoods used to cover over half the land on Earth but they have been beaten back by the cooling trend over the past several million years. Might write some on that next, there is lots of information published on redwoods and climate change.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I’m curious about your thoughts about this. The Forest Headwaters Reserve was purchased by $130 million from California state taxpayers and $250 million from American taxpayers.

    Now, as described in, public access is not permitted off designated trails, and violators can be charged for trespassing this publicly-owned private property.

    I have a few thoughts on this. Firstly, as a natural preserve, I do agree it should be kept in its untouched state. In fact, I would go as much to say that the trails and information centers they have built are far too much. I believe those things are the antithesis to the essence of natural preservation.

    But I feel very strongly against the notion of explicitly being prohibited from entering land that has been set aside for public preservation, from the money of taxpayers, to be gated off as if it were private property.

    I think that the trails shouldn’t have built, that the informational center shouldn’t have been built, and that the the land should have simply been mark and designated as a natural preserve in a way that encourages the least attention possible. I doubt it would get much traffic if it were simply done as that.

    1. That reserve has an interesting history, that is for sure. I think the tech bubble in the 1990’s made the federal and state governments flush with cash from capital gains and income taxes and that provided the impetus to get the purchase done. Now money is tighter, that could be one of the reasons not much has happened there.

      I agree it is nice to have a relatively large area of old growth that has no public trails. The only other places I can think of that are like that area a couple areas in Redwood National Park.

      My vote would be to build one more trail toward the west side, an extended one through more of the old growth, which links the south and north ends of the Reserve. It could be closed during the nesting season for birds of concern. Run it through the edges of the old growth areas, not through the center.

      For the trespassing issue, I agree the BLM stance is pretty harsh. For them it is probably more a law enforcement issue versus not wanting people to sneak into the old growth for hiking.

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