Coho salmon in the Mattole River. Photo by Maureen Roche.

Warriors of Rainbow Ridge


In between the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the King Range National Conservation Area lies Rainbow Ridge, a hidden treasure connecting the redwoods to the sea. 

About an hour south from Humboldt State University lies Rainbow Ridge, a fairy tale forest with 300-foot tall trees covered in lichen and moss. Fungi grows in all shapes, sizes and colors. Rare and endangered animals lurk; the agarikon, the pine marten, the Pacific fisher, the spotted owl, Coho salmon and Sonoma tree vole. The endangered Coho salmon return here to spawn.

“It is really important that we save the remainder of old growth. It is all that we have left,” conservation consultant for the Lost Coast League, Gabrielle Ward said. “We need to look at how we can help preserve and maintain landscape connectivity so that animals can continue to move across landscapes and not be isolated.”

Rainbow Ridge is a combination of coastal Douglas fir trees and mixed-hardwood forest along the north fork of the Mattole River. Inside of Rainbow Ridge’s 18,000 acres of forest and meadows lies 1,100 acres of old growth coastal Douglas fir trees.

Rainbow Ridge is “one of only two old growth Douglas fir forests that have been unentered and untouched, and the only one in California,” Joe Seney, a HSU lecturer in forestry and wildland soils, said.

“There are very few remaining tracks of old growth Douglas fir anywhere along this part of the California coast,” Seney said.

The Lost Coast League is a group of citizens from the Mattole watershed and they have been in land acquisition, litigation and conservancy since the early 1970s. The Lost Coast League has acquired and protected thousands of acres of forest since their inception.

“The goals of the Lost Coast League are to study, survey, understand and preserve and restore this forest,” Ward said.

The Lost Coast League hopes to acquire and restore Rainbow Ridge. The Rainbow Ridge is privately owned by the Fisher family, who is known for their GAP clothing stores. The Lost Coast League intends to purchase Rainbow Ridge from the Fisher family.

The east border of Rainbow Ridge is adjacent to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which holds Rockefeller Forest within it that has the largest contiguous old growth redwood forest in the world.

The west border of Rainbow Ridge is the King Range National Conservation Area. The purchase and preservation of Rainbow Ridge would connect the world’s largest redwood forest with the ocean, creating a wildlife corridor to remain throughout time.

“If the Fisher family would recognize the treasure value of Rainbow Ridge and what kind of legacy they could leave, they could create a Fisher Forest standing adjacent to Rockefeller Forest. This is something that could last throughout time,” Michael Evenson, vice president of the Lost Coast League, said.

The advantages of this biodiverse forest close to HSU provides unique opportunities. The Lost Coast League would like to see the University of California’s nature preserve program or Humboldt State’s College of Natural Resources utilize Rainbow Ridge for research.

“By looking at what is left we can understand what the rest is supposed to look like,” Ward said.

There is the potential for new discoveries on Rainbow Ridge, especially in fungi. Agarikon is a fungus found growing on Rainbow Ridge with medicinal properties that can treat antibiotic resistant tuberculosis.

“There is a vast opportunity for students to be a part of the solution. Looking at fire regimes and restoring portions of the landscape that have been [logged] in the past, and it does have some deep carbon sinks,” Ward said.

The Cascadia Temperate Rainforest spans from Southern Alaska to Southern Humboldt and is the largest carbon sink on the planet.

“The only deep carbon sinks left in the United States are along the coastline of this Cascadian Temperate Rainforest,” Ward said. “It’s all that we have left, we can’t continue to fragment this endangered ecosystem.”

Paulo Sweeney, a forest defender, addresses Humboldt Redwood Company’s inconsistencies in forest practices.

“Humboldt Redwood Company sets aside high conservation areas that they are not going to log at that time. They aren’t going to log the area now but that does not mean that it is protected from being logged in the future,” Paulo said. “These are key places for restoration.”

During Earth Week from April 16-22, HSU will be having talks, films, demonstrations and workshops on environmentally sound practices and sustainability.

Paulo will be having a question and answer period on April 19 after the film “If a Tree Falls” in Forestry Room 201 from 3-4:30 p.m., as part of the documentary day hosted by the Climate Crisis club for Earth Week. Come and learn more on forest defense in the community, climate change, ecological collapse and student involvement in direct action.

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