History Basic Data
NPS Logo



During the last quarter of the 19th century there was a technological revolution in the redwood logging industry. The harvesting of redwood timber was accelerated by the introduction of the Dolbeer donkey, bull donkeys, and railroads. While these innovations made it practicable to log the slopes, they left almost no seed trees. A second industry development was the concentration of timber ownership. Some of this was accompanied by abuse of the Federal land laws.

These changes within industry stimulated public and governmental interest in what was happening to the redwoods. Evidence of this awareness was the increased activity of the California State Government in forestry matters. In 1885 the legislature created a State Board of Forestry, and the Board in 1887 passed a resolution advocating that the United States government discontinue sale of all public timberland and hereafter sell only timber. In 1901 the legislature authorized the establishment of the first state park preserving coast redwoods, the California Redwood Park at Big Basin. [1]

Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot of the Department of Agriculture in 1899 initiated a study of redwoods to provide groundwork for Federal action. Protection, however, was not immediately forthcoming. On June 25, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established by executive order the Monterey Forest Reserve. Eighteen months later, he established Muir Woods National Monument. Just north of the Golden Gate, Muir Woods, the gift of William Kent, preserves and interprets a "typical example of the relatively small isolated groves found in sheltered valleys or canyons in the drier portions of the redwood region." [2]

On the Humboldt Coast, there were both public spirited men and those interested in promoting tourism. They had read with interest of a proposal for a Redwood National Park broached by Pinchot and seconded by Kent. Both men had promised "to subscribe generously to a fund to be raised for the purchase of the necessary land." [3]

It appeared that the hour had struck when, in 1913, Charles W. Ward announced to those interested in a Redwood National Park that 22,000 acres of redwoods on the south side of the Klamath were for sale. This tract owned by the Ward Estate had come on the market through partition proceedings to divide the estate. Included within the proposed boundary of the park were a number of smaller tracts which could be purchased at reasonable prices.

Several thousand acres of Indian allotment lands were also included, and Ward urged that they be sold by the Department of the Interior at a price established by the Secretary. The proceeds could be deposited in a trust fund, the income of which could be paid annually to the Yurok. This sale of the Indian lands was to be undertaken with the goal of perfecting the Redwood National Park.

The proposed park would include within its boundary nearly one and one-half billion feet of the finest redwood, fir, spruce, hemlock, and cedar. Over eighty percent of the timber was redwood. It was separated from the adjoining timberlands to the south by the Great Divide, separating the basins of Prairie and Ah Pah creeks from the lower Klamath watershed. Its northern boundary would be the Klamath. The terrain sloped in a northerly direction to the Klamath, and the watershed was "noted for continuous nightly fogs during the entire year, a condition which insures the preservation of the forest after the surrounding timber has been cut." [4]

Humboldt County conservation interests felt that if Pinchot and Kent would take the lead, the Ward tract could be purchased with funds subscribed by the public, and then gift-deeded to the United States as a National Park. [5]

The Federal government failed to demonstrate sufficient interest in the proposed Redwood National Park, and Pinchot and Kent accordingly were unwilling to spearhead a campaign to purchase the Ward tract.

During World War I the lumber industry thrived and millions of feet of redwood were felled. In view of the failure of the Federal Government to act, a group of far-seeing conservationists in 1918 organized the Save-the-Redwood League. Congress now had second thoughts and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to study the feasibility of acquiring a typical stand of redwoods as a national park. No action, however, was taken to implement the results of this study.

Goaded by the Save-the-Redwoods League, the State of California renewed its interest in redwood parks by authorizing appropriations to acquire timberland on a basis of matching funds promoted by the League. [6]

From 1918 until today, the Save-the-Redwoods League spearheaded the movement to preserve the redwoods. In addition to direct action in land acquisition, the league played a significant role during the 1920s in the establishment of a California State Park Commission. The first unit of Humboldt Redwoods State Park was established through League efforts in 1921. With this as a beginning, other groups were inspired to save redwoods. In Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, the Boards of Supervisors voted public funds for this purpose, and lumber companies contributed land. The California State Park Act of 1927 provided an agency to look after the redwoods that were preserved, and the passage of the Park Bond Act at the same time made matching grants available to acquire lands for state parks. [7]

In its beginning years, the Save-the-Redwoods League had as one of its goals the establishment of a Redwood National Park. During the 1920s and 1930s studies were made by the Federal Government. While some of these recommended establishment of a National Park, the necessary legislative action was not taken. [8]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004