The "Redwood National and State Parks" (RNSP) are located in the United States, along the coast of northern California. The parks consist of a combined area of located entirely within Del Norte and Humboldt Counties and they protect 45% of all remaining Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) old-growth forests, totaling at least . These trees are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth. In addition to the redwood forests, the parks preserve other indigenous flora, fauna, grassland prairie, cultural resources, portions of rivers and other streams, and 37 miles (60 km) of pristine coastline.
In 1850, old growth redwood forest covered more than of the California coast. The northern portion of that area, originally inhabited by Native Americans, attracted many lumbermen and others turned gold miners when a minor gold rush brought them to the region. Failing in efforts to strike it rich in gold, these men turned toward harvesting the giant trees for booming development in San Francisco and other places on the West Coast. After many decades of unobstructed clear-cut logging, serious efforts toward conservation began. By the 1920s work of the Save-the-Redwoods League, founded in 1918 to preserve remaining old growth redwoods, eventually resulted in the establishment of Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks among others. Redwood National Park was created in 1968, by which time nearly 90% of the original redwood trees had been logged. The National Park Service (NPS) and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) administratively combined Redwood National Park with the three abutting Redwood State Parks in 1994 for the purpose of cooperative forest management and stabilization of forests and watersheds as a single unit. This degree of collaboration between the National Park Service and a state park system is unique in the nation.
The ecosystem of the RNSP preserves a number of threatened animal species such as the Brown Pelican, Tidewater Goby, Bald Eagle, Chinook Salmon, Northern Spotted Owl, and Steller's Sea Lion. In recognition of the rare ecosystem and cultural history found in the parks, the United Nations designated them a World Heritage Site on September 5, 1980, and an International Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983.
Spanish, British, Russian, and American explorers visited the coast near the present park as early as the mid 16th century, to trade with local people for seal pelts. Until the arrival of Jedediah Smith, in 1828, no white explorer is known to have thoroughly investigated the inland region. The discovery of gold along Trinity Creek in 1850 brought thousands of miners into the area, which led to conflicts; the native peoples were forcibly removed and in some cases massacred. By 1895, only one third of the Yurok in one group of villages remained; and, by 1919, virtually all members of the Chilula tribe had either died or been assimilated into other tribes. The miners logged redwoods for building; and, when this minor gold rush ended, some of them became loggers, cutting down as many trees as they could sell. In 1850, of the northwest California coast was old-growth redwood forest; but, by 1910, so many redwoods had been cut down that conservationists and concerned citizens began seeking ways to preserve the remaining trees. In 1911, U.S. Representative John E. Raker, of California, became the first politician to introduce legislation for the creation of a national park. However, no further action was taken by Congress at this time.
Frederick Russell Burnham was living on his La Cuesta cattle ranch near the entrance to Sequoia Park when the completion of U.S. Route 101 brought fellow conservationists John C. Merriam, Madison Grant, and Henry Fairfield Osborn to the region. Disappointed to find that there were no public lands set aside to preserve the redwoods, these four early conservationists founded the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918. Using matching funds provided by the state of California, the Save-the-Redwoods League managed to save areas of concentrated or multiple redwood groves or entire forests by the early 1920s. When California created a state park system, in 1927, Burnham joined as a founding member of the commission and three of the redwood areas became the Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks. A fourth became Humboldt Redwoods State Park, by far the largest of the individual Redwood State Parks, but not in the Redwood National and State Park system. Because of the high demand for lumber during World War II and the construction boom of the 1950s, the creation of a national park was delayed. Efforts by the Save-the-Redwoods League, the Sierra Club, and the National Geographic Society to create a national park began in the early 1960s. After intense lobbying of Congress, the bill creating Redwood National Park was signed by President Lyndon Johnson on October 2, 1968. The Save-the-Redwoods League and other entities purchased over , which were added to existing state parks. In 1978, were added to Redwood National Park in a major expansion. However, only a fifth of that land was old-growth forest, the rest having been logged. This expansion protected the watershed along Redwood Creek from being adversely affected by logging operations outside the park. The federal and state parks were administratively combined in 1994.
The United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks a World Heritage Site on September 5, 1980. The evaluation committee noted 50 prehistoric archaeological sites, spanning 4,500 years. It also cited ongoing research in the park by Humboldt State University researchers, among others. The park is part of a much larger region designated the California Coast Ranges International Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983. The California Coast Ranges biosphere is overseen by the University of California Natural Reserve System.
The RNSP are cooperatively managed by the National Park Service, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The National Park annual budget of $7,380,000 in 2004 was decreased to $7,251,000 in 2005 (a reduction of nearly 2%). This amount supports all operations, including 102 permanent and 70 temporary staff. The combined budget for the three State Parks of $1,096,248 covered 17 permanent and 30 temporary staff in 2003. The two agencies work cooperatively to protect the redwoods, the pristine Pacific Ocean coastline, the cultural resources, and the unique natural habitat. The land that was added to the parks in 1978 had previously been logged, and efforts to restore these areas have been ongoing for decades, with old logging roads being removed and the land allowed to return to its original state. Lack of funding has precluded major improvements, however, and timber companies have replanted much of the logged area with non-native tree species. Coastline areas, including dunes and coastal prairie, have been invaded by exotic species, partly due to the suppression of forest fires until the 1980s. A fire management plan now allows controlled burning as one method to return the parkland to its original state. Since the redwoods were logged on the basis of accessibility, with inaccessible areas being cut last, large old growth forest sections were isolated from one another, sometimes by many miles. In these cases it will be decades more before mature forest can return, regardless of the amount of money used to rehabilitate the ecosystem.
The park has transformed a few logging roads into scenic public drives. These do not meet current safety standards, but funding to improve them is not available at present. Park structures such as visitor centers and employee housing also need updating to meet increasing demands. The park employees perform air and water quality surveys, monitor endangered and threatened species, and work closely with the California Coastal National Monument, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The park headquarters is in Crescent City, California.
It is estimated that old growth redwood forest once covered of coastal northern California. Today, only 4%, or , remain, with 45% of that total being managed by the park. The native range of coast redwood is from the northern California coast north to the southern Oregon Coast. The tree is closely related to the Giant Sequoia of central California, and more distantly to the Dawn Redwood which is indigenous to the Sichuan-Hubei region of China. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth; as of September, 2006, the tallest tree in the park was Hyperion at , followed by two more named Helios and Icarus which are and respectively. Before September 2006, the tallest living specimen known was the Stratosphere Giant, outside the park in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which was 370 feet (113 m) in 2004. For many years, one specimen simply named "Tall Tree" in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and within the RNSP was measured at 367.8 feet (112.11 m), but the top 10 feet (3 m) of the tree was reported to have died in the 1990s. One tree that fell in 1991 was reported to be 372.04 feet (113.4 m). Only the Giant Sequoia has more mass. The largest redwood by volume is the 42,500 cubic foot (1,205 m³) "Lost Monarch", located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Mature Coast redwoods live an average of 800-1500 years and a few are documented to be 2,000 years old, making them some of the longest-living organisms on earth. They are highly resistant to disease, due to a thick protective bark and high tannin content. Redwoods prefer sheltered slopes, slightly inland and near water sources such as rivers and streams, and are very fast-growing.
Redwood trees develop enormous limbs that accumulate deep organic soils and can support tree-sized trunks growing on them. This typically occurs above . Scientists have recently discovered that plants that normally grow on the forest floor also grow in these soils, well above ground. The soil mats provide homes to invertebrates, mollusks, earthworms, and salamanders. During drought seasons, some treetops die back, but the trees do not die outright. Instead, redwoods have developed mechanisms to regrow new trunks from other limbs. These secondary trunks, called reiterations, also develop root systems in the accumulated soils at their bases. This helps transport water to the highest reaches of the trees. Coastal fog also provides up to one-third of their annual water needs.
Another large tree commonly found in the forest is the Douglas-fir, which has been measured at heights of over 300 feet (90 m). Sitka Spruce are plentiful along the coast and are better adapted to salty air than other species. The evergreen hardwood tanoak produces a nut similar to the acorns produced by the related genus Quercus (oak). Both tanoaks and oaks are members of the beech family. Trees such as the madrone, big-leaf maple, California laurel, and red alder are also widespread throughout the parks.
Huckleberry, blackberry, and salmonberry are part of the forest understory and provide food for many animal species. The California rhododendron and azalea are flowering shrubs common in the park, especially in old growth forest. Plants such as the sword fern are prolific, especially near ample water sources. In Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Fern Canyon is a well-known ravine 30 to 50 feet (10–15 m) deep, with walls completely covered in ferns.
The ecosystems of RNSP preserve a number of rare animal species. Numerous ecosystems exist, with seacoast, river, prairie, and densely forested zones all within the park. The brown pelican and tidewater goby are federally listed endangered species that live near the Pacific coastline. The bald eagle, which usually nests near a water source, is listed as a threatened species, a designation which includes vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered species, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the state of California lists it as endangered. The chinook salmon, northern-spotted owl, and the Steller's sea lion are a few of the other animal species that are threatened.
Over 40 species of mammals have been documented, including the black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, beaver, river otter, black-tailed deer, elk, and coyote. Along the coastline, California sea lions, Steller Sea Lions and harbor seals live near the shore and on seastacks, rocky outcroppings forming small islands just off the coast. Dolphins and Pacific gray whales are occasionally seen offshore. Roosevelt elk are the most readily observed of the large mammals in the park. Successful herds, brought back from the verge of extinction in the region, are now a common site in park areas south of the Klamath River. Many smaller mammals live in the high forest canopy. Different species of bats, such as the big brown bat and other smaller mammals including the red squirrel and northern flying squirrel, spend most of their lives well above the forest floor.
Brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants are mainly found on cliffs along the coast and on seastacks, while sandpipers and gulls inhabit the seacoast and inland areas. Inland, freshwater dependent birds such as the common merganser, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, great blue heron, and Stellar's jay are a few of the species that have been documented.
Both coastline and the Coast Ranges can be found within park boundaries. The majority of the rocks in the parks are part of the Franciscan Assemblage, uplifted from the ocean floor millions of years ago. These sedimentary rocks are primarily sandstones, siltstones, and shales, with lesser amounts of metamorphic rocks such as chert and greenstone. For the most part, these rocks are easily eroded, and can be viewed along the seacoast and where rivers and streams have cut small gorges. Formed during the Cretaceous age, they are highly deformed from uplift and folding processes. In some areas, river systems have created fluvial deposits of sandstones, mudstones, and conglomerates, which are transported into the park from upstream. Redwood Creek follows the Grogan Fault; along the west bank of the creek, schist and other metamorphic rocks can be found, while sedimentary rocks of the Franciscan Assemblage are located on the east bank.
Weather in RNSP is greatly influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Coastal temperatures generally range between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (4—15 °C) all year round, while further from the coast summers are hotter and drier, and winters are colder. Redwoods mostly grow a mile or two (1.5—3 km) from the coast, but never more than 50 miles (80 km) from it. In this temperate, but humid coastal zone the trees receive moisture from both potentially heavy winter rains and persistent fog, especially during the summer. But it seems the presence and consistency of the summer fog is actually more important to overall health of the trees than significant precipitation. This fact is born out in annual precipitation totals, which range between 25 and 122 inches (63 and 310 cm) annually, with healthy Redwood forests throughout the areas of less precipitation because excessive needs for water are mitigated by the ever present summer fog and the cooler temperatures it ensures. Snow is uncommon even on peaks above 1,500 feet (450 m), further exemplifying the mild, temperate nature of this northern latitude (which is actually further north than the latitude of New York City).
Wildfires are a natural part of most terrestrial ecosystems. In many ways nature has adapted to fire, and the absence of fire can often be disadvantageous. Wildfire eliminates dead and decayed plant and tree matter, enriching the soil and ensuring that healthier trees have less competition for limited nutrients. Until the arrival of European settlers, wildfires periodically burned sections of the redwood forest. From 1850, however, fires were combatted by logging interests, who were concerned both with a loss of their commodity and with the threat to personal safety that fire presented. Miners and loggers who came to the region set out to ensure that all fires would be suppressed as quickly as possible, and the net result was a buildup of dead and decaying flora. During the 1970s, research indicated that there was an immediate need to allow natural fires to burn, so long as personal safety and structures were not compromised. Later, man-made fires were deliberately set to burn off plant matter and reduce the risk of a major firestorm. In the RNSP, a fire management plan monitors all fires, weather patterns and the fuel load (dead and decaying plant material). This fuel load is removed from areas near structures and where fire poses high risk to the public, and controlled burns are used elsewhere. The National Interagency Fire Center provides additional firefighters and equipment in the event of a large fire.
Fire is also used to protect prairie grasslands from invasion by exotic species and to keep out forest encroachment, ensuring sufficient rangeland for elk and deer. The oak forest regions also benefit from controlled burns, as Douglas fir would otherwise eventually take over and decrease biodiversity. The use of fire in old growth redwood zones reduces dead and decaying material, and lessens the mortality of larger redwoods by eliminating competing vegetation.
While the state parks have front country campsites that can be driven to, the federal sections of the park do not, and hiking is the only way of reaching back country campsites. These are at Mill Creek campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith campground in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which together have 251 campsites, the Elk Prairie campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park which has 75, and the Gold Bluffs Beach campground which has 25 campsites. Other nearby state parks have additional front country camping. Back country camping is by permit only and is only allowed in designated sites, except on gravel bars along Redwood Creek. The back country is highly regulated to prevent overuse and to permit as many groups as possible to explore the forest. Camping in the back country is therefore limited to five consecutive nights, and 15 nights in any one year. Proper food storage to minimize encounters with bears is strongly enforced, and hikers and backpackers are required to take out any trash they generate.
Almost 200 miles (320 km) of hiking trails exist in the parks, but during the rainy season some temporary footbridges are removed, as they would be destroyed by high streams. Throughout the year, trails are often wet and hikers need to be well prepared for rainy weather and consult information centers for updates on trail conditions.
Horseback riding and mountain biking are popular but are only allowed on certain trails. Kayaking is popular along the seacoast and in the various rivers and streams. Kayakers and canoeists frequently travel the Smith River, which is the longest undammed river remaining in California. Fishing for salmon and steelhead, a highly prized anadromous form of rainbow trout over , is best in the Smith and Klamath rivers. A California sport fishing license is required to fish any of the rivers and streams. Hunting is not permitted anywhere in the parks, but is allowed in nearby National Forests.
The park has two visitor centers and three additional information points. At the visitor centers, guided nature walks and general information is available. Each campground offers campfire talks during the summer months as well as guided tours. The parks have many picnic areas, which are all easily accessed by vehicle.