Save the Redwoods League to buy nearly 400 acres of redwood forest along lower Russian River

Protected land near Guerneville would include the ancient Clar Tree and controversial Silver Estates timber harvest area, with plans to transfer the property to Sonoma County.|

Save the Redwoods League has secured a deal to purchase nearly 400 acres of redwood forest above the Russian River near Guerneville, including 224 acres that were targeted for logging under a controversial timber harvest plan long fought by local community groups.

The land includes a mile of river frontage, as well as the treasured Clar Tree, an ancient coast redwood believed to be more than 2,000 years old. At 16 feet in diameter and 278 feet tall, it is one of the oldest and tallest trees in Sonoma County, though about 30 feet was lopped off the top during last winter’s severe storms.

Most of the forest’s other old-growth redwoods were logged more than 100 years ago. But new trees sprouting from the stumps of felled trees are on their way to maturity and “on the trajectory of being the old growth of the future,” said Sam Hodder, president and chief executive officer of Save The Redwoods.

This map shows the location of the 394-acre Russian River Redwoods slated for protection by the Save The Redwoods League, for later transfer to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Save the Redwoods League must raise $6.5 million for its purchase by Sept. 30, 2023. (Save The Redwoods League)
This map shows the location of the 394-acre Russian River Redwoods slated for protection by the Save The Redwoods League, for later transfer to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Save the Redwoods League must raise $6.5 million for its purchase by Sept. 30, 2023. (Save The Redwoods League)

The land also has potential for recreational use, including cycling, hiking and boat-in camping, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and others said.

The acquisition of what’s come to be called the Russian River Redwoods is contingent upon the century-old nonprofit’s ability to raise $6.5 million toward the purchase by Sept. 30.

Hodder said he has faith the deadline can be met. The organization he leads has protected more than 200,000 acres of redwood forest and surrounding land in California since its founding in 1918.

“I have so much confidence in our friends and supporters and people who care about California and people who care about the redwoods and, certainly, people who care about the Russian River and the scenery it includes,” Hodder said. “We’ll find a way to make it happen.“

John Dunlap, a leader in the Guerneville Forest Coalition, was thrilled by news that land would likely be protected and managed.

“That’s what we’ve been hoping for all along,” Dunlap said. “Our effort has all been to avoid the redwood and Douglas firs from being logged, and ultimately restored to a very natural space, with redwood and Douglas fir being part of that equation. And also, to clean it up from fires and things like that. That’s a really important issue: to make sure all the slash and other fire prone wood and stuff is removed. So there’s a lot to be done.”

The League eventually will transfer the tract to Sonoma County through the county Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, General Manager Misti Arias said.

The county’s own purchase of the property would have taken longer than was permitted by the landowner, who otherwise wanted to start logging before the year’s end, she and Hopkins said.

Save The Redwoods League is stepping in “to really bridge that gap” between the slower pace of a public acquisition and the tight deadline set by mill owner Roger Burch, whose family owns the land, Hodder said.

Title to the property, a mix of redwoods and Douglas fir on the steep slopes above Neeley Road, actually is held by RMB Revocable Family Trust. Burch, the trustee, is founder and chief executive officer of Pacific States Industries and its subsidiary, Redwood Empire Wholesale Lumber Products, which planned to mill the timber cut there.

“We’re so excited,” said Hopkins, whose district includes the land. “And honestly, Save The Redwoods League’s stepping up was just amazing.”

Hopkins said she was “really, really grateful for their partnership and their willingness to take this on.”

The land at issue is about midway between Guerneville and Monte Rio, on the southeast side of the river. It rises above Neeley Road across from Guernewood Park, doglegs around Mays Canyon Road then back toward the river across from the Northwood Golf Club at the edge of Monte Rio.

The property includes a half-mile of Mays Canyon Creek, which hosts steelhead trout. It adjoins on its southern edge the Bohemian Grove, privately owned by the exclusive San Francisco-based Bohemian Club. Combined, that acreage amounts to 4,000 acres of contiguous wildlife corridor, according to Save The Redwoods League.

The portion included in the Silver Estates Timber Harvest Plan, first submitted to Cal Fire in 2020, might already have been logged but for opposition from community members and others who opposed its approval on environmental, procedural and other grounds.

Organized mainly as the Guerneville Forest Coalition, they argued the harvest would have affected threatened and endangered species, risked undermining steep, unstable hillsides and threatened harm to water quality, among other things.

Cal Fire delayed approval 23 times over three years before finally granting consent to an amended plan last November, prompting the coalition to sue Cal Fire and Redwood Empire in a still-pending case.

At the same time, Hopkins reached out to Burch as what she called a “Hail Mary” move to see if he might consider a conservation sale, resulting in hastily organized tours and discussions through which Save The Redwoods League agreed to take the lead, she and Arias said.

The nonprofit’s participation means the land cannot be developed or logged solely for commercial purposes. The county will have access to the group’s expertise on forest management and restoration, as well as fire resilience, Arias said.

“The benefits of conserving the Russian River Redwoods property are vast,” Arias said. “This forest helps recharge our groundwater, sequesters carbon, provides habitat for plants and animals, and so much more. With this acquisition, we are helping to ensure the land is responsibly managed for both natural resources protection and for the health and resilience of our community.”

Part of the land also is used by the Russian River Sanitation District, which has treatment facilities nearby, for disposal of highly treated wastewater. Arias said both her agency and Sonoma County Water, both overseen by the Board of Supervisors, may eventually take ownership of the property, though none of that has been determined.

She said the open space district would retain a conservation easement over the land and look for a partner to help provide public access to at least some of it.

“This is why it’s so awesome that Save The Redwoods League is stepping in, because all the details haven’t been worked out yet,” she said.

Burch was not available for comment Monday, but said in a news release, “We are pleased that an agreement has been reached with Save the Redwoods League, and we will be offering the Clar Tree as a donation to the League to ensure its long-term protection.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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