A cloning expedition was launched in Camp Nelson, approximately 100 miles southeast of Fresno. The expedition was led by David Milarch, co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, in the hopes of combating climate change.
At the centre of the expedition are sequoias growing in the Sierra, which are among the biggest and oldest trees on Earth. Some are nearly 300 feet tall and up to 3,000 years old. David Milarch believes the size and robustness of the sequoias make them ideal for absorbing greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
The Michigan-based nurseryman preaches the urgency of restoring the Earth’s decimated forests. In two decades, he says his nonprofit group has cloned 170 types of trees and planted more than 300,000 of them in seven countries with willing landowners.
One skeptic is Todd Dawson, a professor of integrated biology at the University of California. He admires Archangel’s creative efforts but says it’s unclear whether the towering trees have superior genes or whether they were simply lucky not to meet the fate of a logger’s saw.
Chances are slim, he said, that cloning and planting a limited number of trees will cool the warming planet. He favors more sweeping approaches such as curbing the use of fossil fuels and protecting vast rainforests.
“That’s one of the things about global warming — it’s a global problem,” Dawson said. “You’re going to have to plant a lot of trees to combat global warming.”
A team of about a dozen expert tree climbers from across the country volunteered for the expedition in May to restock Archangel’s store of genetic samples. They risked their lives to climb to the ends of massive limbs, starting in the southern Sierra sequoia grove and winding up nearly 500 miles away in Northern California, where they carefully collected additional samples from coastal redwoods — a taller, thinner cousin of the giant sequoia.
Clark wrapped the clippings he gathered in damp newspaper, placed them inside ice-filled duffel bags and boarded an overnight flight to the Archangel’s lab across country in Copemish, a rural village in northwestern Michigan. There, Clark and another propagation specialist snipped off some 2,000 shoots a few inches long and planted them in small containers of a peat-and-gel mixture.
Another 1,000 pieces of greenery were placed into jars containing a blend of seaweed-based gelatin and growth hormones. The samples grow beneath purplish fluorescent lights under humidity and temperatures designed to encourage rooting. Cloning ancient trees is tricky business, lab workers say, and many samples don’t survive.
Later this year, Archangel’s team will come west to plant up to 1,000 sequoia and redwood saplings in a cool, damp region of Oregon where the trees will have the best chance to grow.