FRESNO – The largest privately owned grove of giant sequoias – home to the world’s fifth largest known giant sequoia – is for sale.
A Tulare County family decided to sell it to Save the Redwoods League following years of discussions with the San Francisco-based conservation group, which has been eager to protect the property and add it to adjacent Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The league started a fundraising campaign this fall to acquire it, announcing it needed $15.65 million by Dec. 31 to purchase the Alder Creek property northeast of Springville and Porterville and south of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada.
The league had raised $14.3 million as of Dec. 13. Donations have come from people in 19 countries and across all 50 U.S. states.
“It’s the most consequential giant sequoia project of our generation,” said Jessica Inwood, Save the Redwoods League parks program manager. “It’s the largest remaining giant sequoia grove in private ownership and a globally-unique, beautiful landscape.”
The league wants to restore the property over the next five to 10 years before transferring it to Giant Sequoia National Monument. The property is surrounded by the monument and Sequoia National Forest.
Teresa Benson, forest supervisor for Sequoia National Forest & Giant Sequoia National Monument, said the Alder Creek sequoia grove is “right up there with the greatest groves that we already manage.”
“It’s pretty extraordinary in terms of the monarch trees that are there – the really big massive ancient giant sequoias – and also a lot of good younger growth that’s occurring there,” Benson said. “It’s an absolute jewel.”
Inwood said giant sequoias are also important in combating climate change as great sequesters of carbon in the atmosphere.
Giant sequoia forests are among the Earth’s rarest ecosystems. The remaining ancient sequoias exist in about 73 groves along the western slopes of the Sierra in California, from Tahoe National Forest in the north to Giant Sequoia National Monument in the south.
The 530-acre Alder Creek grove is being compared to the 531-acre Mariposa Grove of Giant of Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, first protected by President Abraham Lincoln – a precursor to Yosemite’s protection as a park and the creation of the nation’s national park system.
The league said the Alder Creek property has 483 giant sequoias with trunk diameters of six feet or more, and the famous Yosemite grove has 480.
The largest in the Alder Creek grove is the Stagg Tree, wider than a two-lane road and as tall as a 25-story building. It’s likely thousands of years old.
There’s already a public trail to this tree that would stay open if purchased by the league, which wants to add trails as well.
The Stagg Tree in the Alder Creek grove of giant sequoias is the fifth largest known tree in the world. The property has been owned by the Rouch family since the 1940s. The logging family said they largely left the giant sequoias alone.
“The reason the family is agreeing to sell now has to do with the timing and financials being right for the family,” the Rouch family wrote in a statement provided by the league. “The League’s offer was good enough and it was time for the family to move forward. ... The property is very important to all the members of the family. There are many trees with unique characteristics and one is not more special than another.”
The Rouch family developed a small subdivision decades ago among some of the trees, called Sequoia Crest, and also operated a short-lived ski resort in the area.
A Fresno Bee story written in 1950 said the Rouch property then encompassed 640 acres and that the U.S. Forest Service in the 1940s found more than 600 sequoias on their land with diameters exceeding 40 inches.
Another Bee story written in 1953 stated the Alder Creek grove was recommended for state protection when California Gov. Earl Warren signed a bill introduced by an assemblyman from Fresno that enabled the state to purchase and preserve sequoia groves.
Mike Rouch told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year that less than a dozen sequoias were ever logged on the land purchased by his grandfather.
“I’m 62, and there’s never been one cut down in my lifetime. ... I think my dad deep down recognized how beautiful they were and he didn’t want to take them,” Rouch, described as a building contractor, told the paper.
The league said many parts of the property are healthy thanks to maintenance by the family, and that the league would do more forest thinning where needed to help the grove and reduce the risk of large wildfires. Restoration work could also include planting new trees.
Benson said Alder Creek Grove could be added to Giant Sequoia National Monument via the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that provides money to acquire significant lands for public use.