California’s Redwood Forest Returned to Indigenous Tribes


Nestled in Mendocino County, Northern California, the 523 acres of rugged forest are dotted with ghostly stumps of ancient redwood trees harvested during a logging boom that wiped out more than 90% of species from the west coast. But about 200 acres are still dense with ancient redwoods that have been spared from logging.

The land was the hunting, fishing and ceremonial ground for generations of native tribes like the Sinkyone, until they were largely driven out by European settlers. On Tuesday, a Californian nonprofit dedicated to the conservation and preservation of redwood trees announced that it was reuniting the land and its original inhabitants.

The group, the Save the Redwoods League, which was able to purchase the forest through corporate donations in 2020, said it was transferring ownership of the 523-acre property to the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a group of 10 tribes natives whose ancestors were “forcibly removed” from the land by European American settlers, according to a league statement.

The tribes will serve as stewards of the land in partnership with the Save the Redwoods League, which has been protecting and restoring redwood forests since 1918.

Fundamentally, we thought the best way to permanently protect and heal this land was through tribal stewardship,” Save the Redwoods League chief executive Sam Hodder said on Tuesday. “In this process, we have the opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities linked to it.

For more than 175 years, members of the tribes represented by the council had no access to the sacred lands they had used for hunting, fishing and ceremonies.

“Rarely do these lands revert to the original peoples of these places,” Hawk Rosales, an indigenous lands advocate and former executive director of the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, said Tuesday.

“We have a an intergenerational commitment and purpose to protect these lands and in doing so protect and revitalize tribal cultural ways of life,” he added.

As part of the deal, the land, known prior to the purchase as Andersonia West, will be called Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ (pronounced tsih-ih-LEY-duhn), which means “Fish Run Place” in the Sinkyone language.

“Renaming the property Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it is a sacred place; this is a place for our natives,” Sinkyone Council board member Crista Ray said in the statement. “It lets them know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before today.”

According to the statement, Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is a vital addition to the conserved lands along the coast of Sinkyone, about five hours north of San Francisco. The newly acquired land is west of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and north of the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness, another protected area, which was acquired by Sinkyone Council in 1997.

The council’s goal, Rosales explained, is to reconnect and expand the region’s redwood forests, which are ecologically and culturally linked, to repair “components of an ecosystem that has been fragmented and was threatened.”by colonial settlement.

Redwoods aren’t the only endangered species in the forest. The land is also home to coho salmon, rainbow trout, marbled murres (a small seabird), and northern spotted owls, all listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Since 2006, the Redwoods League had had conversations with a California logging family who had owned the land for generations. Mr. Hodder explained that after years of building a relationship with the family, the league was able to purchase the land in 2020 for $3.55 million. The money for the purchase was donated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company as part of its program to mitigate environmental damage.

The Redwoods League still maintains an easement on the property. “Our goal is simply to ensure that we add to the capacity and support of the council as it advances its own stewardship and restoration goals,” Hodder explained.

This is the second time the Save the Redwoods League has donated land to the council. In 2012, he transferred a 164-acre property north of Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, known as Four Corners, to Sinkyone.

For Mr. Rosales, the importance of replenishing these culturally significant lands is not only for nature conservation, but also allows the tribes to have a stronger connection with their ancestors.

“The descendants of those ancestors are with us today in the member tribes,” Rosales said. “There are families who trace their lineage back to this place, basically, and the surrounding environs. They are connected to their ancestors, and this is a way of reaffirming that.


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