Michigan Group Participates in Efforts to Help Tiny Sequoias Become Giants | News, Sports, Jobs

AP Photo Ashtyn Perry, 13, touches the Three Sisters redwood during an Archangel Ancient Tree Archive plantation expedition, Wednesday, October 27, 2021, in Sequoia Crest, Calif.

SEQUOIA CREST, Calif .– Ashtyn Perry was barely as tall as the shovel she dug into barren ground where a wildfire ravaged the California mountain community of Sequoia Crest last year and destroyed dozens of its giant trees emblematic.

The 13-year-old with a big smile and a waist-length braid had a higher goal than she’ll ever live – if she succeeds -: to plant a baby redwood tree that could grow into a giant and live for millennia.

“It’s really cool to know that this could be a big tree in a thousand years,” she said.

The bright green seedling that barely reached Perry’s knees is part of an unusual project to plant the offspring of some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet to see if the genes that allowed the parent to surviving so long will protect new growth from climate hazards. cash.

The effort led by the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a Michigan nonprofit that preserves the genetics of ancient trees, is one of many extraordinary steps taken to save the giant sequoias that were once thought to be nearly dead fire proof but which may be wiped off. by more intense forest fires.

The giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world by volume and closely related to the sequoia, the largest in the world. Sequoias only naturally grow in a 260-mile (420-kilometer) forest belt on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They have a massive trunk and can reach over 90 meters tall. The coastal redwood is thinner and is native to the Pacific Ocean in northern California.

Giant sequoias – and sequoias – are among the most fire-adapted plants. Thick bark protects their trunks, and their canopies can be so high that they are out of reach of flames. Redwoods even rely on fire to help open their cones to scatter seeds, and flames clean up the undergrowth so seedlings can take root and receive sunlight.

In recorded history, large redwoods had never been cremated before 2015. Destruction of majestic trees reached unprecedented levels last year when 10-14% of the estimated 75,000 trees over 1.2 meters tall in diameter burnt. Thousands more have potentially been lost this year in fires that destroyed 27 groves, or about a third of all groves.

An initial assessment released Tuesday by Sequoia National Forest indicated that the Windy Fire has killed hundreds of giant redwoods and many more burnt trees may not survive. Scientists are still counting the damage done in neighboring Sequoia National Park by another lightning fire.

Climate change and a century of policies emphasizing extinguishing wildfires rather than letting them burn to prevent future larger fires are to blame, said Christy Brigham, chief resource management and of science in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Hotter droughts led to more intense fires that burned through the fuels accumulated during the suppression of the fires.

The destruction of the sequoias last year made Brigham cry.

“They are so big and so old and so individual, iconic and original that even people who don’t like trees love them. They speak for all trees, ”said Brigham. “The fact that we have now created fires that they cannot survive is very heartbreaking. ”

To save the trees this year, extreme measures have been taken, including wrapping the trunks of larger trees in fire resistant film, installing sprinklers, raking flammable materials around trees and even using frost in awnings to repel the flames.

But these labor-intensive measures are impractical, Brigham said. More needs to be done before the fire approaches, including thinning out vegetation and using prescribed burns to reduce vegetation build-up. They also think about replanting.

One of the areas that burned intensely last year was the Alder Creek Grove, where the community of Sequoia Crest has been located since the middle of the last century. Half of the 100 houses and cabins were destroyed, leaving empty concrete foundations next to charred tree stumps. Some blackened giants still stand on guard on the region’s rugged hills, 241 kilometers north of Los Angeles.

It was in this grove, one of the few private ones, that Archangel had gathered cones and taken clippings over the past decade to clone and preserve the genes of two of the oldest and largest trees. One of these trees, named Stagg, the fifth tallest in the world, survived while the fire killed one named Waterfall.

“Talk about divine providence,” said David Milarch, Archangel co-founder. “We had no idea that Waterfall would burn down two years ago and that we would have the only seedlings of this tree.”

Milarch’s mission is to archive the genetics of ancient trees, reproduce them and replant them. He believes older trees have superior genes that have enabled them to survive drought, disease and fires and will give their offspring a better chance at survival.

Two years ago, the undeveloped part of the grove was bought by Save the Redwoods League.

The league is already replanting on its land to study whether seedlings can survive where a high-intensity fire has destroyed any ability of trees to reproduce naturally, said Joanna Nelson, the organization’s scientific director.

While Nelson would not rule out using Stagg seedlings, estimated to be 3,000 years old, the project is designed to find the best genetic diversity to increase their survival.

“This genetic makeup has served this tree very well over the past 3,000 years,” said Nelson. “However, we know that the next 3,000 years are going to be more difficult – in terms of the warming and drying of the earth and the air and larger forest fires which are more frequent. We have conditions ahead that these trees did not know.

Nelson applauded Sequoia Crest’s effort to replant.

Residents who lost their homes and those spared banded together to dig water pipes to irrigate the seedlings and, along with Archangel workers and volunteers, dug holes under a thin layer snow last week and planted little green flags to mark planting locations.

Uta Kogelsberger, whose hut was destroyed, said she has no plans to rebuild but wants to leave a legacy she will likely never see.

“We are all in some ways responsible for these fires – the way we have treated our planet,” Kogelsberger said. “The loss of the cabin has been absolutely devastating, but the loss of the incredible ecosystem that surrounds it is simply incomparable. You know, you can replace a house, but you can’t replace a 2,000 to 3,000 year old redwood tree.

Residents were joined last week by a science class of seventh and eighth graders from Springville, which sits at the base of the mountain, to help plant 150 of the 7-year-old seedlings.

Teacher Vicki Matthews drove the school bus to the suspended road above the Tule River Canyon and into an evergreen forest that initially took on a rusty tint from drought damage or the fire, then gave way to entire stands of black trees silhouetted against the snow.

The 35 students deployed to an area once known as the “downtown” of Sequoia Crest, where the original houses were built and which is now a sad scene of destruction with stumps sticking out of the snow like tombstones.

Ashtyn and two friends carefully removed the small tree from its pot, untangled the roots, and planted it near a charred rock, tamping the soil around it. They named him “Timmy the tree”.

Ashtyn said she would like to come back once a year to see how it develops. She hopes he will grow up to be a giant.

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