Executive Director and Founding Member
Ara Marderosian is the founding Executive Director of Sequoia ForestKeeper. With great passion he took up the cause to protect the Sequoia National Forest from overzealous mangers who operate the forest as a farm with the marketable trees as a crop and a place for consumptive recreation. In 1998, as Conservation Chair of Kern-Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club, Ara began writing letters to the Forest Service to help protect the natural legacy they have been charged with since 1895. It is a privilege to watch Ara hike up a hill knowing that he is not just appreciating the natural world, but actively striving to protect it for future generations.
Ara was born and lived in Providence, Rhode Island for his first 10 years. As a young boy in the smallest state in the country, which is smaller than the Sequoia National Forest, Ara found a magical place to be in nature. Within a half-mile of his boyhood home, the 427-acre Roger Williams Park was a place to play and explore. “I would go into the flower garden that was annually planted in the shape of a large clock and hide among the flowers to observe the birds and people who walked or drove past.”
Ara grew up a gentle soul as the only boy sandwiched between an older and a younger sister, he spent many hours being an astute observer of human relationships. One of his all boy games would be the trappers… “among the tall trees in my back yard, my friends and I would dig holes (perhaps a foot deep) and cover the holes with newspaper, then dust the newspaper with sand, so the hole was undetectable. We would then hide and see if anyone or anything fell into the hole. Never did any adult find and fall into our holes – we kids usually intentionally fell into our own holes. We never caught anything.”
Always a lover of water, Ara enjoyed vacationing at ocean beach resorts and traveling to visit relatives along the Clinton River in Pontiac, Michigan and the Hudson River in Watervliet, New York. They would spend hours playing in nearby lakes and waterways and picking blackberries and grape leaves. The family would pickle the grape leaves or make Dolma a favorite Armenian dish made by stuffing grape leaves with rice, meat, and vegetables. An environmental side note: the Clinton River was destroyed by piping and burying it under the town of Pontiac in 1963 to make Clinton River Park. Efforts began this year to uncover the river for a new waterfront community.
In the early 50’s, Ara’s father Diran Mardirossian took a job as an engineer with United States Steel Corporation and moved the family to the suburbs of Philadelphia in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. The new town of Fairless Hills was one of the first planned development “tract” home company towns. Soon to follow in his father’s footsteps, Ara took college preparatory classes at Pennsbury High School. The flying falcon mascot was fitting as Ara would later spend a lot of time exploring the world. But first he would attend New Mexico State University and earn his Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Engineering.
After graduating he returned to Fairless Hills to work as a metallurgist for U.S. Steel for seven years, but soon his skills of observation would be put to the test as he saw that the status quo was inefficient and environmentally troubling.
Ara moved to California in 1972 and worked as an engineer in various capacities for the next 19-years. Working with some of the first computer technologies always kept him at the leading edge of the curve in engineering technology. He worked as the Sales and Research Manager for Modern Optics Corporation designing and supplying optics systems, including custom LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) mounting equipment and isolation systems. A diverse and resourceful engineer, his mounting designs were used by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory LASER Fusion experiments and China Lake Naval Weapons Center. His company’s designs of LASER mounting equipment supplied 60 percent of the LASER research laboratories in the country.
Ara came into his own in 1976 when he went to work engineering for Today's Technology Today. He worked designing and promoting systems inventory and computer controlled machines. He worked in different teams that engineered designs included innovations like a textile machine that would produce a custom rug with no pollution down the drain or out the stack, concrete floating islands used as floating airports or floating breakwaters, and thermal wall coverings. He then branched into affordable home designs where he developed a low cost passive solar home.
After Ara’s father passed away in 1987, his mother moved west to have her son help care for her in her declining years. It was this fateful experience that drew him to move to the Kern River Valley that year. Even while continuing to work as an engineer, Ara began a new phase of his life and career as a geriatric care manager and professional conservator. Ara has always loved hiking and exploring and his new home gave him the opportunity to explore the nearby trails of Sequoia National Forest. Although he saw his first giant sequoia in Yosemite National Park, his favorite is the sequoia that is embracing the cedar on the Trail of a Hundred Giants in Giant Sequoia National Monument. It was with the love of this paired tree and learning of the ongoing struggle by many environmental groups to save the giant sequoias from logging, that Ara began to understand how troubling it was to have trees that were up to 3,200 years old under the supposed care and management of an agency whose political whims could doom these ancient relics.
Analyzing systems for 20 years made Ara a perfect fit for looking into problems with the proposed “protection” efforts of the Forest Service. Working as a scientist, he had developed a knack for knowing when smoke was being blown. In 1996 he volunteered to write comment letters and appeals of logging proposals by the U.S. Forest Service, managers of Sequoia National Forest (SNF). He has written appeals for Sequoia Forest Alliance, Sierra Club Sequoia Task Force, Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter, Tule River Conservancy, and Kerncrest Audubon Society. His understanding of the law and how necessary timely appeals are for successful campaigns against illegal and environmentally harmful projects in Sequoia National Forest led to many critical successes. Many of the logging, road-building, herbicide use, pesticide use, and other projects were withdrawn and some were reversed.
Ara became active as an officer in the Kern-Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club in 1998 and soon was leading the charge to protect Sequoia National Forest and the local communities from environmentally devastating projects. He and many others helped to craft the proposed language, submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, for consideration by President William Jefferson Clinton for the Giant Sequoia National Monument proclamation. Ara attended the presidential proclamation ceremony on April 15, 2000 in the new monument among the sequoias.
In 2001, it became clear that the forest service wanted to continue to operate the sequoia forest with a business as usual policy. The directive in the proclamation that “No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production, and no part of the monument shall be used in a calculation or provision of a sustained yield of timber from the Sequoia National Forest. Removal of trees, except for personal use fuel wood, from within the monument area may take place only if clearly needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety,” was considered unclear by the Forest Service. So began Ara’s third career, as Executive Director of Sequoia ForestKeeper.
As frustrating as the job can be, one of Ara’s best experiences is when he convinced the silviculturist that even though the leaves of trees were 90 percent scorched or burned, the trees were not dead and would still live, so the USFS should not salvage the trees. He was right, most of those trees lived.
All work and no play can certainly make for a dull life, but Ara knows how to enjoy life and besides hiking, his greatest joy is exploring new places. So far Ara has been privileged to visit five continents where he enjoys exploring nature, cultures, architecture, and food. His greatest adventure was closer to home where he hiked to Mount Sill via Scimitar Pass , which is described as one of the most brutal hikes ever!
When he is not off on an adventure, Ara loves quiet time near home. He loves listening to music which became a passion when his beloved sister Armena would play classics on the piano. Hiking the nearby hills and creeks, he has even helped keep those pristine; one of his and Sequoia ForestKeeper’s victories was the withdrawal of an illegal Forest Service permit for a ranch to withdraw 100 percent of the flow of a tributary to the South Fork of the Kern River. For Ara, the title of his favorite Beatles song describes how he hopes to see nature treated, just “Let it Be.”