Tag Archives: giant sequoia

What’s up with Archangel?

This tiny seed contains the genetic code to grow a new coast redwood
This tiny seed contains the genetic code to grow a new coast redwood

David Milarch is at it again: evangelizing about the need to clone super trees to save the world from climate change. This time he has taken his message across the atlantic and touched down in Britain. According to an article in the Observer, he’s backed by Richard Branson,  the founder of the Eden project, and is even meeting with Prince Charles’ forestry advisors. I hope these luminaries see Mr. Milarch and his Archangel project for what it is: a distraction from the real issues facing forests around the world.

Mr. Milarch came and met with me a number of years ago while I was running Save the Redwoods League. His offer was simple: join him in saving the redwoods through cloning.  As an aside, he went on to say if we didn’t join him he’d make the League irrelevant as he would be the savior of the redwoods.  Despite the fact I don’t like veiled threats, I listened and we talked. Then as now, I had concerns about his approach and ultimately  declined to join his project.

Since then, Archangel has been racing to clone super trees that plant in groves around the world. They theorize that because these champion trees have survived for so long they are our best bet to reforest the Earth and soak up all the excess carbon dioxide we continue to emit.  For me, that is taking the science a step too far.  Forest conservation and management have an important role to play in the fight against climate change. But putting all our eggs in the cloning basket is just too risky. Clones are, by definition, genetically identical. A disease that takes out one will take out them all. And just because an individual tree has survived what nature has thrown at if for the past 1,000 years doesn’t mean its best adapted for the novel conditions coming in the next 100 years, let alone next 1,000 years.  Much better to protect the rich genetic diversity of all forests, rather than focus on a few superlatives.

12 people stand on the Fieldbrook stump with room to spare
12 people stand on the Fieldbrook stump with room to spare

Without a doubt Archangel has done some interesting work. Take the example of the Fieldbrook stump. Perhaps the largest redwood ever to live, and now a decaying stump in farmland near Arcata California. Archangel has resurrected this tree and plans to plant clonal copies around the world. It would be a talking point to have a copy in your garden for sure! The cloning work itself is interesting, but by no means ground-breaking — gardeners have been cloning plants and trees with cuttings for centuries after all.

So by all means support the work of Mr. Millarch and Archangel, but please don’t lose sight of what it really is:  Creating museum copies of a small handful of nature’s wonders. If you really want to help the Earth’s forests and battle climate change there are much better places to invest your money.

Read my previous post on cloning here: http://wp.me/p2V0ap-8Q

Places I love: Calaveras Big Trees State Park

160 years ago The Mammoth Tree was felled. It was heard — around the world. The shock of its felling helped spark the conservation movement in America and indeed around the world. It’s one of my favorite places to be — it’s beautiful in every season and has such a great story to share with us even today. You can read more in Leo Hickman’s piece in the Guardian.

California’s Arboreal Triangle

California is a wonder land for tree lovers: in fact about 45 per cent of the state is covered with forests. The diversity is remarkable and that alone might be enough to set California apart. But what really makes California unique is that it is home to three world record beaters. It’s home to the tallest (a 379′ coast redwood in Redwood National Park), the most massive (the 52,506 cubic foot General Sherman Giant Sequoia), and the oldest trees (a 5,063 year old Bristlecone Pine). Not only are these record-breaking trees, but they are really record breaking organisms.   Hang on, some will say, but what about that the aspen grove dated to 80,000 years, or the Creosote bush in the Mojave dated to 11,700 year? But I say, there’s something special about a single organism that has survived that long and grown unimpeded for centuries. This record-breaking Arboreal Triangle is truly an international treasure worthy of protection.

This past weekend I returned to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest high in the White Mountains of eastern California. Perched at 10,000 feet is the Methuselah Grove. In 1957 Edward Schulman and Tom Harlan couldn’t quite believe their eyes when the tree rings they were counting extended back to 4,789 years. This tree, whose location is a closely guarded secret, was the oldest know single trunk tree until scientists discovered a 5,063 year tree in the same grove earlier this year. It germinated in 3051 BC!

Ancient Bristlecones stand watch at 10,000 feet
Ancient Bristlecones stand watch at 10,000 feet

Walking with these ancient monarchs gives me goosebumps.  You can literally see where the rocky soil has eroded away over millennia leaving roots exposed.  Where else can you see geological time set against a living organism? It also makes me feel humbled and connected to the wider-world in much the same way as standing before the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park or walking amid the towering redwood groves of Redwood National and State Parks.  I feel fortunate to have visited both in the past year.

In a time of rapid climatic and environmental change, these trees have so much to share with us about past conditions. Understanding how they have fared under past climatic regimes will help us better understand how to protect both these remarkable trees, and ourselves, as we head into uncharted territory. Unlike us, these trees are rooted to the ground and have no place to go. These trees have survived for thousands of years: with our focused efforts and help lets hope they continue to thrive.

If you have some free time this summer, what better pilgrimage is there for a tree lover? I can think of none finer.

Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
The General Sherman stands guard
The General Sherman stands guard

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25 years of controversy amid the monarchs

I just got back from a trip to see the cinnamon-colored giants of Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest in the southern Sierra. It was a real treat to explore a giant sequoia grove for the first time, especially when accompanied by members of the Save the Redwoods League research committee and the forest manager.
Giant Sequoia
Research Committee members exam a giant sequoia

Mountain Home is owned by Cal Fire, and its 4,800 acres are surrounded by the Giant Sequoia National Monument(same landscape, different ownership). In addition to many great campgrounds, Mountain Home is unique in that part of its mission is to provide a location for forest research and demonstration.  And research and demonstration are sorely needed for the giant sequoia groves.  Nowhere is this truer than in the 33 groves of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

One of our Councillors told me the story of his trips to see these groves in 1987 ascontroversial logging was underway within the grove boundaries. To put it simply, in the name of reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire, the forest service leased contracts to log everything but the giant sequoias in a number of these groves.  The impact on the groves was catastrophic and the repercussions are with us today.  In the 1990 the League was party to a mediated settlement agreement that halted further logging and established protocols for managing the groves.  And in 2000, in the last days of the Clinton administration the groves were established as part of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  In the 25 years since that logging, the forest has continued to grow, and in many places the groves are now choked with dense stands of young fir and pine. In fact, many of these stands are so dense that there is a significantly increased risk of catastrophic wildfire that threatens the very existence of the groves.

Fire clears out the base of giant sequoia trees
Prescribed fire clears out the base of giant sequoia trees

Everyone agrees this is a problem – the fire hazard is real, but there are contrasting views of how to manage the forest to reduce it. But for 25 years well-meaning individuals have fought about how to address this issue through multiple lawsuits.  The Forest Service is about to release its latest attempt at a management plan that would pave the way toward managing the groves. I would not be surprised if another round of lawsuits ensued.  Unfortunately every year that passes means another year that we have to hold our breath and hope that fires don’t wreak havoc with these irreplaceable groves. While we will never know definitively what the “best” management strategy is, waiting and doing nothing continues to imperil these monarchs.

The League’s focus is simple: ensuring that we bring the best science possible to protecting and managing these groves in the long-term. And that’s where places like Mountain Home come in – we can go into the field and look at the effect that fuel reduction, restoration, or logging within the groves has had and make informed decisions about the future.  We’ll keep you posted over the coming months as the latest chapter in the history of the monument unfolds. In the meantime, get out there and enjoy the sight of these wonderful sequoias that have stood tall for thousands of years.

[originally posted on, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, August 21, 2012]

The Redwoods in Prehistory

One of the things I enjoy when I’m in England is playing “spot the redwood tree.” It’s really pretty easy. I once read that if you ascend any church steeple in England and scan the horizon, the tallest tree is likely to be a Sequoia wellingtoniagiant sequoia as we know them in the states.

Giant sequoias near Long Meg and her Daughters
Giant sequoia near Long Meg and her Daughters

While I have not been up a church steeple in many years, barely a day goes by when I’m in England that I don’t spot at least one towering giant sequoia. Now these are not the thousand-year-old monarchs you find in California’s great sequoia parks, but many are decent-sized trees that are pushing into their second century. I have a run I like to do from my parents’ house in northern England that passes a beautiful specimen by a Victorian house. I always stop to say hello.

But the most interesting sighting this time was of two decent-sized sequoias in a small copse by Long Meg and her Daughters. Long Meg is an ancient standing stone, and her daughters are ancient stones in a circle. William Wordsworth described them as second only to Stonehenge. They are in open country with views of the Lakeland Fells (high, barren fields) and Pennines mountains in the distance. Even today it feels like a power spot with deep roots.

Close up of Long Meg and her Daughters
Close up of Long Meg’s Daughters

Do you have a favorite redwood tree? Perhaps one that is outside the natural range of redwoods, maybe even one you have planted. Share your stories and photos with us here, or help us by loading their location into our Redwood Watch program so we can better understand where these remarkable trees grow today. Thank you!

[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, August 8, 2012]