Reforestation Reaches New Heights Thanks To Tree Cloning Efforts

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photo by Debra Atlas

Forest degradation; photo by Debra Atlas

The world is losing the equivalent of 68,000 soccer fields of trees daily. More than 7,600 square miles of trees are wiped out each year!

In the U.S. alone, up to 98 percent of our old growth forests are gone. Forests create the oxygen we breathe. They create rich soil and compost; support entire ecosystems and are home to a wide variety of wildlife. They sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide, filter and clean our water and remove pollutants from the air. Forest loss creates serious environmental damage, including soil erosion, mudslides and large amounts of CO2 being pumped into the air.

Milarch's Michigan greenhouse filled with old growth redwood clones

Milarch’s Michigan greenhouse filled with old growth redwood clones

There’s a growing movement towards reforestation. Pacific Coast redwoods and sequoias, along with a team of committed visionaries, are playing a key role in this movement.

Champion Trees Live Up Their Namesake

An irreverent, passionate, third-generation tree farmer from northern Michigan named David Milarch and his non-profit Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, have been collecting genetic material from the largest, oldest “Champion” trees – primarily redwoods and sequoias – across three Western states. To extend their genetic heritage. they’ve been cloning and using these trees to rebuild forests around the world.

Much of the cloning material come from dead stumps – long forgotten victims of the late 18th and 19th centuries race towards progress and expansion.

“We’re down to 4 percent of this species (of Champion coastal redwoods),” said Milarch.

“It can’t be done….”

Prior to Archangel’s cloning program, tree “experts” believed that cloning old growth trees was impossible. But they had only gathered material from lower tree branches. They didn’t know about the sun needles – the brittle, dangerous green material that grow straight up at the higher ends of the trees.

An old photo of the Fieldbrook stump, now successfully cloned and planted as part of England's Eden Project. Photo courtesy of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

An old photo of the Fieldbrook stump, now successfully cloned and planted as part of England’s Eden Project. Photo courtesy of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

The sun needles out-grow / out perform any other tree materials, said Milarch. Along with a “special sauce” that his son Jake created, a rooting element and vitamins, they were the breakthrough that finally allowed old growth trees to be cloned.

“…or can it?”

Finding these trees has been challenging. Many are located on private rather than federal land. Milarch and his sons worked a 500-mile grid up the West Coast to find the oldest living trees and stumps. Archangel has now cloned 73 of the giant redwoods from this 500-mile trek.

Many of these trees defied experts knowledge about them. Northern California’s “Lost Forest” tree stumps, for example, measure 24 to 35 feet in diameter versus the more commonly found 12 to 18 feet dimensions. The Fieldbrook Stumps, giant redwoods located near McKinleyville, California, were the largest Coast Redwoods known to ever live – estimated at 1,500 pounds each, nearly 400 feet tall, 3,500 years old and 35 feet in diameter!

And forty percent of their weight is stored carbon, said Milarch.

“Standing forests,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, “and other plant-rich landscapes store climate-warming carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere, making forests an important component of both national and international efforts to curb global warming.”

The Barret stump - another old growth redwood that's been successfully cloned; photo by Debra Atlas

The Barret stump – another old growth redwood that’s been successfully cloned; photo by Debra Atlas

The excitement and success of cloning these once magnificent trees is equaled by them finding homes in countries around the world. Clones from these stumps are now planted in seven countries.

Milarch says he’s heard from 162 countries asking for help with reforestation efforts.

England in particular is onboard. The Eden Project is an attraction comprised of greenhouse domes filled with plants collected from around the world. In late November 2014, the Project received 100 cloned trees grown from one of the ten Fieldbrook stumps.

“(This) will be Europe’s first old growth Redwood forest,” said Milarch. The cool, damp climate is perfect for redwoods, he said, which help fight climate change by storing vast amounts of carbon.

The proud-standing old growth Stout redwood, in Oregon's Jebediah State Park; photo by Debra Atlas

The proud-standing old growth Stout redwood, in Oregon’s Jebediah State Park; photo by Debra Atlas

“There’s a crucial direct connection between healthy forests, healthy oceans and healthy air,” Milarch says.

“When you replant the forest, you mend the planet,” says Diana Beresford-Kroger – author, botanist, medical biochemist and one of the world’s leading experts on trees. “It takes hard work, intelligence and global prioritization to come up with (viable) solutions,” she said.

Reversing deforestation will positively influence the effects of climate change. Ancient iconic (cloned) coastal redwoods may be the pivotal factor.

Feature image courtesy of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

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Debra Atlas

As an environmental journalist, blogger, professional speaker and radio personality, Debra Atlas lights the way to let consumers discover exciting, useful green products that won’t make their checkbooks implode. A member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, she is a frequent contributor to environmentally focused publications and conferences.