April 23, 2013
Tree Group Plants Redwood Clones Abroad To Save Them From Climate Change
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In celebration of Earth Day 2013, one non-profit organization made a bold attempt to preserve one of America´s oldest natural treasures. By protecting and preserving California´s ancient redwood trees, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (AATA) is hoping that the towering timbers will be saved from climate change.
The AATA has selected nine locations in seven countries: Germany, Ireland, Wales, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and in the US states of California and Oregon. Planting the ancient colossals abroad will help give them a fighting chance. Declining precipitation and higher temperatures in their native habitat have put the trees under great duress. The locations selected for the trees present an ideal climate for the continued survival of the native Californian Redwood.
The California clones, measuring just 18 inches tall apiece, are laboratory-produced clones (genetic duplicates) of three giant redwoods that were felled in northern California more than a hundred years ago. Amazingly, shoots still emerged from the stumps left behind. One stump, known as the Fieldbrook Stump, measures 35 feet in diameter and is believed to be around 4,000 years old, according to the AATA. When the Fieldbrook Redwood was felled in 1890 it stood over 40 stories tall and would have surpassed the General Sherman Sequoia as the largest tree on Earth, according to the Archive.
David Milarch, the man behind the AATA, has made it his life mission to protect and preserve the ancient trees. He has been featured in a new book by NY Times science writer Jim Robbins, which features his lifelong work and documents his group´s efforts to clone the colossal champions of the world — the largest, hardiest and most resilient trees ever to exist — and to create a "Noah´s ark of tree genetics."
From cloning to replanting, the four-year effort cost more than $2 million. But the end result was priceless. In the beginning, Milarch, along with his two sons Jared and Jake, scoured the redwood range from southern Oregon to central California in the hunt for just the right trees. They collected genetics from not only the largest living coastal redwoods, but also from the stumps of the largest trees ever. Once they collected samples, Milarch and his sons returned to their propagation facilities in Michigan to begin the cloning process.
Initially, scientists didn´t believe it could be done. But through intense trial and error research, the team was able to generate roots from samples and was able to grow exact duplicates of the colossal redwoods.
The new generation of “daughter” trees grew remarkably well in the lab and soon they were transplanted to the Archangel nursery. The trees continued to grow and just in time for Earth Day 2013, they were ready for their assisted migration to new habitats all around the world. Once in the wild, these trees will continue to grow, about 10 feet per year, capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Once mature, these behemoths can contain 400 tons of carbon per tree.
The daughter trees arrived at their destination countries by April 22, 2013 for Earth Day planting ceremonies. The AATA group noted, however, that intense care will be needed by humans to ensure the trees survive and thrive. In nature, mature redwoods can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds annually, but the germination rate is very low. With only a small number of trees going to each location, human intervention will likely be needed for years. Also, research was needed to make sure the trees were going in the proper soil and climatic environment. Once the trees are planted, they will need to be regularly watered and monitored to ensure the colossal champions can become established enough to survive on their own.
“We´d like to recognize their dedication, and enthusiastic support of this project, and to their long-term stewardship of these great trees. This global old growth reforestation is designed to be an integral part of ongoing sustainability initiatives within each of the local communities. Archangel looks forward to sharing more detail of the global planting in the very near future,” said the AATA in a statement.
"If we get enough of these trees out there, we'll make a difference," said Milarch´s son Jared, the group's executive director, reports the Associated Press.
Milarch noted, however, that many trees that are planted, especially those on Arbor Day (April 26), are planted and then left to survive on their own. In the end, he added, as many as 90 percent of these trees will die. “You can't plant trees and walk away and expect them to take care of themselves.”
But it is still a “feel-good thing,” he said.
For the recipients of the Archangel redwoods, a promise has been made to care for them properly, Milarch said. In the US, a few hundred trees have already been planted in Port Orford, Oregon. More were scheduled to be planted during Earth Day celebrations at the College of Marin in Kentwood, California and parks and private estates in six other countries.
Dr. Rama Nemani, a researcher in Earth sciences, said: “It´s amazing for one layman to come up with the idea of saving champion trees as a meaningful way to address the issues of biodiversity and climate change. This could be a grass roots solution to a global problem. A few million people selecting and planting the right trees for the right places could really make a difference.”