Forest Stewardship

A hillside covered in bright green grass slopes gently up away from a grey fallen log. Many redwoods can be seen marching up the hill and into the distance, many scarred with black from the fire. Most are starting to push out fresh green needles.

Amazingly, within just a few short weeks of the extreme 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire, redwoods began to push out new lime green sprouts from their charred branches and trunks. This was a hopeful sign that many of the trees had survived the hottest and most damaging fire at Big Basin in its recorded history.

Coast redwood forests are highly adapted to fire, but this 135-square-mile wildfire—more than twice the area of San Francisco—was a new phenomenon. Intensified by drought, rising temperatures, other effects of climate change and past fire suppression management, the wildfire caused extensive damage to parks and communities in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Since 2020, redwoods and other plants have resprouted vigorously, and ongoing forest management is underway to improve forest health, recovery, and resilience.

Ongoing Forest Resilience Projects

California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, Parks California, Auten Resource Consulting, and a broad coalition of partners have been working to restore the forest and help ensure it is resilient to climate change and future wildfire. Together, they’re bringing decades of science-based restoration knowledge to the region.

Restoration projects are happening now throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains at Big Basin, Año Nuevo, and Butano state parks—all of which were in the path of the CZU Fire.

With so much of the redwood tree canopy still regrowing, the parks are sunny, dry, and warm.

Densely growing native grasses and shrubs cover the forest floor, and while this growth is an indication of the health of the understory, other plants, such as Douglas-fir trees, will take decades to regain their place in the forest canopy.

The CZU Fire also left behind standing dead trees and dead tree limbs throughout the forest. These not only pose a risk to visitors when they fall, but they are also fuel for another fire. Combined with the vigorously growing grasses and shrubs, there’s an overabundance of combustible material accumulating in the forest that could feed another devastating wildfire and threaten the survival of old-growth redwood stands.

The proactive restoration work aims to reduce the amount of fuel and improve forest resilience.

The restoration program is designed to improve forest health and help ensure the forest is resilient to climate change and future wildfire.


  • Reduce the amounts of combustible materials (fuel load) and vertical continuity of fuels to minimize the probability of stand-replacing wildfire.
  • Maintain the current extent and complexity of old-growth redwood forest.
  • Manage forest vegetation to support diverse native species and maintain the existing suite of herbaceous understory species, including populations of listed species.
  • Manage forest vegetation to increase resilience in anticipation of climatic trends.
  • Maintain flooding, tidal flows, and other disturbance regimes, including fire, that support sustainable populations of most of the species present.
  • To the extent possible, approximate the prehistoric burn regime of this forest.
  • Detect exotic species while populations are still small and eliminate them where feasible.
  • Maintain the persistence of existing and future infrastructure and facilities.

The restoration of this forest requires using science-based techniques:

  • Prescribed burning and pile burning to reduce combustible plant materials such as shrubs, trees, and dead leaves and branches.
  • Hazardous tree removal
  • Strategic removal of some small- and medium-sized trees to promote forest resilience, create opportunities for remaining trees to grow, and encourage old-growth forest characteristics.
  • Using Integrated Pest Management guidelines: Mechanical, physical, and chemical methods may be used on invasive species.

California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, Parks California, and Auten Resource Consulting have completed field work and data gathering; synthesized data; and prepared a forest management strategy in the following phases:

  • Project Scoping and Analysis (2021): The team compiled existing GIS data and remote-sensing data related to burn severity, vegetation typing, forest canopy, infrastructure, watercourses, larger sub-watersheds, priority project areas, sensitive species, and topography.
  • Field Investigations (2021-2022): The team conducted extensive site visits to research, verify, and compile data on forest characteristics such as stand structure, growth, understory species, burn severity, and habitat conditions for key species throughout the project area.
  • General Assessment (2022-2023): The team prepared a summary of key findings from data gathered during field investigations; potential types of treatments and project areas; permitting recommendations; and possible data gaps and research opportunities. Read the document here.
  • Forest Management Strategy (2023-2024): The team is preparing a forest management document including background, goals, vision and concepts, and descriptions of desired future conditions and treatment plans.
  • Permitting (2023-2024): California State Parks meets all regulatory requirements and required environmental reviews for proposed vegetation treatments pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act and other laws and regulations.
  • Implementation: On an ongoing basis, California State Parks and partners are conducting forest restoration projects in a prioritized manner within Big Basin, Año Nuevo, and Butano state parks.

Witness the Forest’s Recovery

Photos of the coast redwood tree canopy at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, showing the effects of the CZU Fire in May 2021 (left) and the regrowth as of November 2023 (right). Photos provided by the PhenoCam Network.

While much of Big Basin Redwoods State Park continues to recover and remains closed to the public, California State Parks and its partners are working to re-establish safe access to trails and evocative nature experiences.

Plan your next visit and see the forest’s recovery up close.