Gun control. Affirmative action. Capital punishment. Public education. The presidential election. Global warming.
What do all of these topics have in common? One big thing — they all spark controversy.
I recently came across a story, that specifically involves the arboriculture industry, about a group of people actively trying to combat one of these topics.
In mid-July, the Associated Press (AP) reported on a team of arborists and scientists that, in an effort to help reverse climate change, have begun propagating California’s giant sequoias and coastal redwoods. Sequoias growing in the Sierra Nevada are among the biggest and oldest trees on the planet, and some reach more than 300 feet tall and are up to 3,000 years old. Many of these trees have survived thousands of years, enduring drought, wildfire and disease.
Climber Jim Clark is one of the men involved in this unique and fascinating cloning expedition, which involves clipping off tips of young branches, wrapping them in damp newspaper, placing them in ice-filled bags and flying them overnight to a lab — run by David Milarch, co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive — in Copemish, Michigan.
“It’s really a race against time,” Milarch told the AP. “If we start right now, we can go after climate change and reverse it before it’s too late.”
At the lab, some 2,000 shoots a few inches long are planted in small containers of a peat-and-gel mixture. Another 1,000 fingernail-sized bits of greenery were placed into jars containing a blend of seaweed-based gelatin and growth hormones, the AP reported. The samples grow beneath fluorescent lights under humidity and temperatures designed to encourage positive rooting.
Though this is risky business – with the ultimate odds of success apparently not great — I think what these people are doing is worth it, both for the planet and for science. They’re risking their lives to scale the massive limbs of these ancient sequoias and redwoods in Northern California. Why? They’re doing it because they care about our planet.
They’re environmental stewards with a vision and a passion for preserving Earth for future generations. By the way, they do it while relying mostly on donations and volunteer workers and arborists.
Sounds like a worthy cause to me.
“It’s a biological miracle,” Clark said of the process. “[One of these pieces] of tissue … can be rooted, and we have a miniature 3,000-year-old tree.”
Milarch told the AP that he believes the size and robustness of redwoods and sequoias make them “ideal for absorbing greenhouse gases that drive climate change on the planet.” He likened them to people who drink and smoke all their lives, yet thrive well into their 90s. Milarch reported to the AP that his nonprofit group has cloned 170 types of trees and planted more than 300,000 in seven countries (with willing landowners). Later this year, Archangel’s team will travel west, across the country, to plant around 1,000 sequoia and redwood saplings in a cool, damp region of Oregon, where the trees will have a fighting chance to grow and thrive.
Nevertheless, naturally there are skeptics.
Some people believe climate change is the stuff of fiction.
Others, for example in the academic world, question whether or not cloning and planting a limited number of trees will cool a warming planet. Todd Dawson, a professor of integrated biology at the University of California-Berkeley, told the AP that while he admires the efforts of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, he favors different approaches to combating the issue of climate change, including lessening the use of fossil fuels globally and protecting rainforests.
“That’s one of the things about global warming — it’s a global problem,” Dawson told the AP. “You’re going to have to plant a lot of trees to combat global warming.”
Regardless, I applaud the effort to clone these trees.
At least someone’s doing something.