Protecting the magic of the redwoods

Step inside a pristine grove of ancient trees in California's Sonoma County to see how the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League is using technology to preserve the giants.

James Martin/CNET

The coast redwood, or Sequoia sempervirens, can climb as high as 380 feet and live for 2,000 years. The San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League is working to save old-growth trees from continued threats like illegal cutting, climate change and marijuana cultivation. 

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

In a pair of four-wheel drive ATVs, our group bounces along narrow logging roads in and out of patches of sunlight. Some trees have large cavities at their base called basal hollows, created by fires repeatedly burning into the interior.

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

Last year, the league purchased the Harold Richardson Reserve, a remote 730-acre redwood grove that sits 100 miles north of San Francisco. The league is using the land both to study the trees and the creatures that live there.

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

Redwoods are extremely hearty, with thick fibrous bark that makes them resistant to disease, insect infestation and fire. The 1,640-year-old McApin tree is the oldest tree on the property. It's 239 feet tall.

James Martin/CNET

Redwoods are so massive, they support their own ecosystems. In addition to birds, the trees host worms, spiders, beetles, crickets and amphibians.

James Martin/CNET

Using six Song Meter SM4 Recorders strapped to trees throughout the property, biologist Stephanie Martin tracks the marbled murrelet, a small Pacific Ocean seabird that lays its eggs only on the branches of the oldest and tallest redwoods.

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

For 90 minutes at sunrise and sunset, when the murrelets are likely to be feeding their young, the devices record the sounds of the forest. The recordings are then sent to a laboratory, where specialized software detects the bird's unique call.

Though now wild and untouched, this unique reserve will be opened to the public by 2023. Facilities will be minimal -- just a parking lot, trails and picnic tables.

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

In planning public access to the preserve, the league installed tree-mounted cameras to detect and track wildlife. The organization has also used drones to monitor the hard-to-reach areas of the property. 

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET

Life in the canopy is thriving, with large protuberances called burls that can sprout from a redwood's trunk and lead to a clone tree. Below the canopy are nursery trees, where young redwoods are growing using the nutrients from a fallen tree's root system.

James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET