“We’re rolling with the punches,” said Nadia Hamey, the lead forester at POST-protected San Vicente Redwoods, as she pulled another seedling from her neatly holstered pouch. The crew she had organized that day had been working diligently since sunrise, planting thousands of redwood and Douglas fir trees on the steep slopes of an area within the property called Deadman Gulch.
“The [CZU Lightning Complex] fire created an opportunity for us,” she said, “and we’re taking it.”
Nadia’s a die-hard environmental advocate with the practical skills that come with being a top-tier forester; it’s an immaculate fusion. Anyone in the area who knows her would tell you that she’s just the person you want managing these nearly 9,000 acres of forest and quarterbacking the initial response to the apocalyptic firestorm that erupted in August of 2020.
But don’t take my word for it, hear it for yourself:
Many of us are all too familiar with the freak lightning siege in mid-August of 2020 and the ensuing wildfires. We watched with dreadful anxiety as the CZU Lightning Complex spread through the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains and burned almost the entirety of San Vicente Redwoods. “It was a hard reset, both for the landscape and for every project we had planned in this forest,” Nadia said.
While the impacts of this fire are still being assessed, we know that it burned at different intensities across the property. Unfortunately, Deadman Gulch burned with such intensity that every tree I witnessed that blustery February morning had been completely scorched, trunk to top. It was hard to witness and difficult to see so much raw soil exposed and vulnerable to the oncoming rains. But amid this raw landscape, a unique opportunity presented itself.
San Vicente Redwoods, like so much of the world’s forests, looks very different than it did 150 years ago. In the early 1900s, nearly every tree on the property was clear cut for timber profit, back before we knew just how ecologically devastating such a practice was. And since that time, the forest has been struggling to recover.
The stand within Deadman Gulch is a prime example. What grew back after the massive redwood and Douglas fir were cut down in this steep gulch — back in the early 1900s — was a thicket of fast-growing tanoak and madrone. Shaded and outcompeted for available sunlight, the other species of trees that recovered — like redwood and Douglas fir — struggled amid the new competition.
“The fire gave us a chance to bring this forest back closer to what it looked like two hundred years ago,” Nadia said. Now, there’s enough available sunlight for a young tree to finally make a proper go of it. Of course, all that was needed were some seedlings with the right genetics, carefully grown in a nursery over several years until they were the strong enough they had a fighting chance of survival. Nadia, not surprisingly, had a few thousand on hand.
“Most forestry decisions are based on outcomes beyond your lifetime,” Nadia said. The 5,500 redwoods and Douglas fir trees planted within Deadman Gulch are no exception. It will be decades, if not centuries, for these trees to provide the benefits we hope to achieve: carbon sequestration, habitat for endangered species like the sea-faring marbled murrelet and a natural resilience to drought, infestations and wildfire. Each seedling planted is an act of faith, a small push for this forest back to what it had been.
Back to what it can be again.
One of the definitive aspects of managing San Vicente Redwoods is that of partnership. POST co-owns the property with Sempervirens Fund. We actively manage the property in collaboration with Save the Redwoods League. We are planning for public access with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. At the center of it all is a fantastic forester and property manager — Nadia Hamey of Hamey Woods.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 86,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more