The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

Saving the Last of the Redwoods - B&C Impact Series

By PJ Delhomme

Boone and Crockett Club members in the early 1900s weren’t exactly what we call treehuggers today. Instead of chaining themselves to giant redwoods to protest logging, they took a more pragmatic approach to save what remained of these 2,000-year-old trees. 


Living History 

They are the tallest trees in the world, some measuring more than 350 feet. Many are older than Christianity. They are the coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), ranging from southern Oregon to central California. Their inland cousin, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), is found on the western slopes of the Sierra Mountains. The oldest living specimen of the giant sequoia is more than 3,200 years old and stands 250 feet tall. 

Fifty million years ago (give or take), redwoods covered the planet. Then came ice ages that shrunk the range of the coastal redwood to an estimated two million acres. In California, Native Americans like the Yurok used its lumber to build homes and sweathouses. They used redwood driftwood to carve ocean-worthy canoes. Then came Spanish explorers in the late 1700s. By 1850, the California gold rush was in full swing, bringing hundreds of thousands of settlers to the West Coast. Progress needed lumber, and the redwoods had plenty. 

Courtesy NPS.gov.

Like the waves of bison on the prairie, redwoods seemed to be an infinite resource. And like the bison, redwoods were, in fact, exhaustible. As early as 1860, calls for the conservation of resources echoed through Congress. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act of June 30, 1864, granting Yosemite Valley to the State of California.

Then came the national park idea and Yellowstone. President Benjamin Harrison established Sequoia National Park in 1890, then Yosemite National Park six days later. The coastal redwoods were still on the chopping block thanks to the Timber and Stone Culture Act of 1878. This legislation sold “unfarmable” timberland for $2.50/acre in 160-acre sections, and companies bought vast expanses of redwood groves, sometimes totaling tens of thousands of acres. Their means of acquisition wasn’t always above board. 

Lumber from redwood trees is an incredibly unique resource. It doesn’t easily succumb to warping and splitting. It’s relatively light, cuts easily, and shrinks little. It’s naturally resistant to fungi, fire, and insects like termites. Because of these unique qualities and its sheer size and abundance, redwoods were squarely in the crosshairs of timber companies. There was just one problem; the trees were so bloody big! 

One redwood tree makes one train load, c1907.

Loggers with crosscut saws, double-bit axes, and wedges would sometimes take a week or more to fell and buck just one massive coastal redwood. Then, using horses, they would have to haul out manageable sections. Along came steam power and railroads, which allowed loggers to take on the biggest trees in much less time. As the nation grew, so did its thirst for quality lumber. 

Stephen Mather, right, with William Kent in front of a giant redwood, 1923.

In 1902, William Kent and his wife Elizabeth bought 295 acres of redwoods in Marin County for $45,000 in 1905. They then donated the land to the federal government. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the donated land Muir Woods National Monument. Today, those redwoods are just 10 miles from the Golden Gate bridge. William Kent would become a California Congressman and conservationist, eventually introducing legislation to create the National Park Service in 1916. The Kents' decision to buy a chunk of redwoods and donate it to the state of California (the people) kicked off a trend in land preservation that would soon take off thanks to a trio of Boone and Crockett members and a good old-fashioned road trip.  

Save the Redwoods League 

In 1917, a highway running north from San Francisco to the Oregon border was completed. Stephen Mather, the first director of the newly created National Park Service, needed a favor from some fellow Boone and Crockett members. He asked Madison Grant, Dr. John C. Merriam, and Henry Fairfield Osborn to take a road trip and check on the redwoods. Their goal was to “visit virtually every single grove of importance,” wrote Grant. Along the way, they witnessed first-hand the logging operations adjacent to the highway. The entourage returned from the trip vowing to save what remained of California’s coastal redwoods. 

In 1917, B&C Members Madison Grant, John D. Merriam, and Henry Fairfield Osborn took Stephen Mather on an epic road trip to check on the redwoods, which ultimately ended up with the creation of the Save the Redwoods League. 

The men immediately formed the Save the Redwoods League. The aim of the group was to raise money to buy back redwood groves that logging companies had purchased at bargain prices. Upon forming the league, Grant wrote that the Club “does have the deepest concern over the wasteful destruction of our woods as refuges for our game and as part of our national heritage.” 

Grant and other members of the League did not attempt to play hardball with the logging companies. Rather, they intended to play to the Club’s strengths, which happened to be access to money and influence. Individual philanthropy would become the name of the game. Grant recounts convincing the Pacific Lumber Company, which had a large mill on the Eel River, to postpone logging operations until they could collect enough donations to purchase a large portion of their holdings. “The company is cooperating with the League in every way and appreciates the fact that the League intends to pay fair prices for all lumber taken,” Grant wrote. 

Members of the Women’s Save the Redwoods League in 1919.

To generate publicity, the League was lucky to have Boone and Crockett Club member Newton Drury as the executive secretary in charge of publicity and fundraising. Drury ran his own advertising agency and knew how to raise money and awareness. He would serve as executive director of the League until 1939, when he became director of the National Park Service until 1951. He returned to lead the League in 1959. Under his leadership, the League preserved nearly 50,000 acres of coastal redwoods and the Calaveras Grove of giant sequoias. During his entire career time at the helm of various non-profit and government agencies, including California Parks and Beaches, Drury helped in the protection of more than 135,000 acres of redwood forest, which is more than half of what remains today, according to the NPS


In a rather ingenious move to preserve as many redwoods as possible, the League established redwood memorial groves when Dr. John C. Phillips donated $32,000 in 1921 to purchase 35 acres. Phillips dedicated the grove to his brother-in-law, Colonel Raynal C. Bolling, who died in World War I. “This idea of immortalizing the memory of men who gave their lives for their country by the dedication of a Redwoods grove will ultimately play a very large part in the saving of these trees,” wrote Grant. “Perhaps more than any one event in the history of the League, Dr. Phillips’ splendid conception of a memorial grove has stimulated the interest and furthered the cause of conservation of these great and ancient groves.” In the past century, the League has established more than 1,000 redwood memorial groves, in more than 30 of California's redwood parks.  

The first memorial grove was established in honor of Colonel Raynal C. Bolling, commemorating the first American Army officer of high rank to fall in World War I. The grove includes redwood forest on the South Fork of the Eel River. Grant is pictured second from the left.

Redwood National Park (Finally) 

While the League was raising money to set aside various groves of redwoods, Mather was working to create enthusiasm at the national level for a park as early as 1918. And he was using his connections with the media to do it. According to Horace Albright, Mather’s stalwart assistant who would succeed him as NPS director, Mather encouraged Saturday Evening Post editor George Horace Lorimer to visit the redwood groves he wanted to set aside as a national park. “Selling Scenery” was Lorimer’s ensuing editorial, and he called “saving of the redwoods as much a national matter as if Independence Hall or the Capitol in Washington need saving from destruction.” Mather wasn’t afraid to reach out to the locals, either. He and Grant took a road trip together through Northern California, stopping at little towns along the way to encourage locals to support the idea of preserving the redwood groves. 


For various reasons, the road to establishing a Redwood National Park was a winding one, which took roughly 50 years. Conservation took a backseat to national security when World War II erupted. After the war, the housing and economic boom needed lumber. The logging industry exploded in Northern California. At the same time, the League was working to acquire as many redwood groves as possible and turn them over to the state. Even so, by the 1960s, it is estimated that 90 percent of the original redwoods were gone. 

It wasn’t until 50 years after the formation of the Save the Redwoods League that Redwood National Park was established in 1968. One of the hurdles faced by proponents of the park was money. In the past, land that was already in government ownership was turned into national parks. In many cases, it was just a matter of legislation. For the redwoods, most of the land slated for a national park was privately owned. The federal government was going to need to cut a really big check for all those parcels it sold for $2.50/acre.

“Probably the most substantial contribution of the club was the preservation of Redwood stands in California.”

—William Sheldon, Boone and Crockett Club historian 

The League partnered with the Sierra Club on a public relations campaign that engaged the National Geographic Society, which financed a NPS study of California’s redwoods in 1963. Among other areas of interest, the study focused on what remained of old-growth redwood. It concluded that “...all old growth redwoods not protected in parks will be gone by the year 2000, and probably in 20 to 30 years.” 

Boone and Crockett member and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall called a meeting with lawmakers, state and county officials, members of the redwood lumber industry, and concerned citizens. “Secretary Udall told the meeting that redwoods preservation was the most important conservation issue before his Department,” wrote Edwin C. Bearss, the NPS Chief Historian. More meetings followed. Even though President Lyndon Johnson was in favor of a new park, Congress wanted more meetings and compromise. Eventually, President Johnson signed the Act creating the Redwood National Park on October 2, 1968.

In the early years of the Boone and Crockett Club, setting aside landscapes like Glacier National Park and saving game animals like bison and pronghorn took time, but none took as long as the creation of Redwood National Park. Thanks to the formation of the Save the Redwoods League, Club members didn’t need to rely on federal lawmakers to set aside redwood groves in what is now Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Instead, they took preservation of the redwoods into their own hands and successfully set aside the last remaining groves of these most ancient and iconic species. 

The Three Redwoods 

Dawn Redwood 
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 

Giant Sequoia 
Sequoiadendron giganteum 

Coast Redwood 
Sequoia sempervirens 


Visitors in 2021

Club Members Continue to Save Our Sequoias

While redwoods and sequoias are different species, these national treasures face a common threat—which is why the Boone and Crockett Club supports the Save Our Sequoias Act. Read More

Burned sequoias teach experts about high-severity wildfires

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is initiating emergency fuels reduction treatments in California to provide for the long-term survival of giant sequoia groves against immediate wildfire threats. Emergency fuels treatments would remove surface and ladder fuels to protect 12 giant sequoia groves across about 13,377 acres. Read More

About the Impact Series

The Impact Series is dedicated to showing how sportsmen, members of the Boone and Crockett Club in particular, saved the wildlife and wild places of the United States. Early members of the Boone and Crockett Club comprised the movers, shakers, and initiators of the American conservation movement. They were hunters, anglers, explorers, lawmakers, soldiers, and above all conservationists. These members established laws that allowed our wildlife resources to flourish. They also protected landscape-scale geologic marvels and American icons like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali, and many, many more. These members may no longer be with us, but their legacy remains. This series aims to honor their accomplishments and remind us of the good work still yet to do.

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal.  


Support Conservation

Support Hunting

Support Conservation

Support Education

"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt