Saving our ancient giant redwoods could help save the planet

David Milarch The Man-Who-Planted-TreesAs the genetics versus Nature controversy rages on, one related issue may prove crucial to the survival of the planet.

Trees have an enormous impact on our planet. They act as natural filters, capturing carbon dioxide, help clean pollution from the air, and provide critical habitat for wildlife. They also contribute to the overall well-being and health of humans, our oceans and all life.

The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plant to Save the Planet details the work of Michigan tree nursery owner David Milarch. In 2008, Milarch co-founded the non-profit Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, whose mission is to “collect, propagate and archive the genetics of ancient champion trees from around the globe,” then plant these “to reforest the Earth”

96 percent of coastal redwoods have been cut down

96 percent of California’s old growth coastal redwoods have been cut down

“David is one of the most unusual people I’ve met,” says the book’s author, award-winning journalist and science writer Jim Robbins.

“The idea of cloning trees to protect their genetics is a unique idea. Every scientist I interviewed said it was a sound idea, and wondered why someone didn’t think of it sooner. Moreover, using the most iconic trees in the world — the redwood and the sequoia — for this project has gained attention from people all over the world.”

From the 1800’s on, huge swaths of forests were cut down across the country. With no thought to conservation, we lost more than we knew.

“The genetics of the biggest trees is disappearing,” says Milarch.

In the US, we’ve cut down or killed 98 percent of old growth forests, says Milarch. California alone has lost 96 percent of its old redwoods.

“We destroyed those ecosystems, not knowing the roles they played not just in human health but health for all mammals, including the ones in the ocean,” Milarch said.

David Milarch - 1 of the world's largest coastal redwoods

One of the world’s largest coastal redwoods

Robbins’ book speaks to this statement.

“American urban forests sequester nearly half a billion dollars worth of carbon and remove air pollutants that would cost nearly $4 billion to clean up in other ways…from lung cancer causing particles, to benzene, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and lead… Trees also mitigate some obstructive lung diseases.”

“There are 450 major diseases racing around this planet unchecked for the 1st time in history,” Milarch says. “We didn’t know the role trees played (in this),” he said, “i.e. the natural aerosols from their needles or leaves, the natural disinfectants and natural antibiotics.”

With regards to our oceans and waterways, “trees could be utilized to remedy a lot of … water pollution problems, including … human-created chemical waste dioxin, ammonia, dry cleaning solvents, oil and gas spills, …The natural filters scrub out pollutants that can’t be extracted by conventional methods: pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, chemicals from plastic and other endocrine disruptors.” The book cites numerous documented examples of trees removing toxic chemicals from polluted waterways.

Milarch collects seedlings and cuttings from the largest, oldest known, living and felled giant trees in the world, which he calls “champion trees”.

Milarch and his Archangel team have propagated a 3,000 year old redwood

Milarch and the Archangel team have propagated a 3,000 year old redwood

In northern California’s Crescent City, he and his team stumbled across the biggest trees that ever lived, cut down on private land in 1890. These Lost Groves were forgotten by the locals and by time.

In contrast to the “fattest” known trees in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park which measured 12 to 18 feet across, these lost champion stumps measured 24 to 35 feet in .diameter!

“It was like finding an elephant graveyard or dinosaur graveyard,” Milarch said.

Remarkably, Milarch’s team at Archangel was able to clone twelve of these into viable living trees. These were planted this Earth Day ceremonies in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the United States.

We gave them away, said Milarch, “to make sure those genetics are never lost again.”

With climate change, on-going drought and rising temperatures, “you’re losing your redwoods and your sequoias,” Milarch said. “It’s getting too hot and too dry.”

Bill Werner at Sequoia Crest, California, photo-by Bill Latka Rivet Entertainment, owned by Archangel

Bill Werner at Sequoia Crest, California, photo-by Bill Latka Rivet Entertainment, owned by Archangel

But Milarch’s team has prepared an ace in the hole. They planted a collection of the redwoods the farthest East and the farthest South in hot dry climates where redwoods and sequoias aren’t supposed to live.

They now have proven collection of winners of the hottest, driest conditions on the planet, he said.

“Those are the trees you’re going to need from approximately Big Sur up to Humbolt in about ten years,” Milarch said. “It’s 2½ climate zones warmer already,” he said. “It won’t take much more to tip it in California if you do the math.”

So what can we do about all this?

Jake Milarch climbing a giant redwood to gather seedlings

Jake Milarch climbing a giant redwood to gather seedlings

Believing this book should be mandatory reading for all schoolkids, Milarch also recommends watching the videos on their website, which detail their 20 year work. Educate yourselves on the advances they’ve made.

Every person has, on average, a 2½ ton per year debt we consume, says Milarch.

“Start planting trees to offset the carbon that you owe the Earth so that your children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with that debt,” he said.

Mother Nature always has the last vote,” he said

To learn more about Milarch, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive and The Man Who Planted Trees, go to AncientTreeArchive.org.

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