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Redwoods go global Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
April 23, 2013 08:18 pm

Port Orford students celebrate the planting of a genetically cloned redwood tree on Earth Day, Monday. Submitted photo
Port Orford students celebrate the planting of a genetically cloned redwood tree on Earth Day, Monday. Submitted photo
Students of Pacific High School in Port Orford Monday planted a genetic clone of a 3,000-year-old redwood tree in honor of Earth Day — April 22 — celebrations being celebrated throughout the world.

That sapling was one of dozens planted throughout the world — Germany, Ireland, Wales, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and in California and Oregon — to ensure their chance of long-term survival in the face of climate change.

About 100 high school and junior high school students gathered on the front lawn of Pacific High School to place the 3-foot-tall sapling in the ground. It will stay there for several years before it is transplanted into a logged area behind the school.

According to school board member David Brock Smith, the students also replanted scores of Douglas fir trees in that area Monday. The redwood tree will be relocated there in a few years after it has had time to become hardy.

“Two years ago, the kids were learning about the logging process,” he said. “Now, they’re learning about the replanting process.”

The international redwood tree planting effort is the goal of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive and the Champion Tree Project International, whose co-founder David Milarch last December unveiled dozens of 3-foot-tall redwood sapling clones at a press conference in Port Orford.

The trees, Milarch reasons, live so long they can’t “migrate” ahead of the warming, drying effects of global warming. Fog in Northern California is decreasing in the face of these warmer temperatures — and fog is critical to the giants’ survival.

For the past four years, he’s been taking the first steps on a mission to clone the oldest, hardiest, largest trees on Earth, relocate them to locales where the trees were once native and where they stand the best chance of survival.

If they survive, the big trees capture tons of carbon from the atmosphere, and will in turn offer a better chance for humans to survive.

Port Orford was first on the list to receive 20 late last year, when Milarch and others planted the saplings in an “assisted migration” to Ocean Mountain Ranch south of Port Orford.

The soil of the land where the Fieldbrook tree grew is very much like that on the 163-acre ranch. Fog, vital for a redwood’s survival, rolls in off the ocean.

“Impossible”

If Milarch was out to save the genetics of magnificent trees and reduce the carbon levels in the air, Port Orford developer Terry Mock was merely looking for hardier trees.

“All the trees marketed were being picked for their aesthetics: big flowers, fall colors — planned obsolescence,” Mock’s. “The more that die, the more they get to sell.”

The two got together 15 years ago.

Milarch and his sons Jared and Jake, who have a family-owned nursery in the village of Copemish, Mich., became concerned about the condition of the world’s forests in the 1990s. They began their search for “champion” trees, those old, large, genetically unique trees that have lived hundreds or thousands of years.

Their thoughts were that the superior genes enabled such trees to survive other species.

Scientists thought him a fool, Milarch said.

But he’d been cloning old champion trees for decades in his hometown in Michigan — and with great success: a 400-year-old oak that toppled in a storm in Maryland and trees originally planted in Mt. Vernon by George Washington.

The redwoods were next on the list.

Milarch collected living material from trees and stumps — including from the Fieldbrook Redwood, a giant tree cut down in 1890 that measured 32.5 feet in diameter. If it hadn’t been felled, it would rival the General Sherman Sequoia as the largest tree on Earth.

Against all odds — and taking four years of research and $2 million in expenses — they sprouted.

The trees capture and store carbon from the atmosphere  to mitigate the effects of climate change. They can grow 10 feet per year, and when mature, will contain some 400 tons of carbon per tree.

In nature, a mature coast redwood can produce at least 100,000 seeds annually — but the germination rate is very low, and survival even less so.

We’re following the science,” Mock said. “Science says climate change is here and it’s going to accelerate. The (planting) zones will move north. Every farmer in America understands this. A whole group of people say it’s a hoax. But it’s happening.”

Getting the saplings to Port Orford for Earth Day was easy. Other countries presented major challenges.

Soil had to be removed from the roots of the trees to comply with agricultural regulations. There were reams of paperwork and shipping regulations to ensure the swift and safe transport of the trees to their ultimate destinations.

And once they are replanted, they take a considerable amount of care to thrive, Milarch said. The soil, temperature, exposure to sunlight and fog in the air are all critical to their surviving a couple months, much less a couple thousand years.

“A lot of trees will be planted by a lot of groups, but 90 percent of them will die,” Milarch said. “It’s a feel-good thing. You can’t plant trees and walk away and expect them to take care of themselves.”

Hence the extensive studies to ensure the right conditions — and the right people to ensure their survival.

“Port Orford is a community of firsts in Oregon,” Smith said. “It is the first town on the Oregon coast, it has the first Marine Reserve and Marine Protected Area on the Oregon Coast and back in December, it was the first community to plant clones of ancient champion redwoods through the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive Project,” he said. 

 

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