“We want to get the biggest, best genetic representations of the species,” said David Milarch, the co-founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. “And make millions and millions and millions of them.”
Mr. Milarch, who preaches his love for all things arboreal with an evangelical zeal, says that his mission is simple, if grandiose: to reforest the land with a variety of the most interesting tree species from around the world, and by extension, halt and reverse climate change.
“Everyone knows the problem, everyone knows the bad news,” said Mr. Milarch, a ruddy, jovial chain-smoker and a sixth-generation arborist. “This is the solution.”
…but the specifics of this project are (I think) missing the point, and not really “the solution”. Coast Redwoods are confined to the wet valleys of coastal Northern California for a reason – they have very specific habitat requirements! Same for giant Sequoias from the mid-elevation westside Sierras. Both redwoods and sequoias have very specific ecological relationships as well, from soil fungi to associated plants, mammals, birds, understory trees, and cycles of fire, drought, and wind disturbance.
So the idea that because these are the most charismatic and “interesting” trees in the world, that the whole world should be replanted with them, is literally missing the forest for the trees. Instead of charismatic icon trees, we should be thinking about the functions, ecosystem services, and economic products provided by tree crops for reforestation and habitat restoration. And we should be thinking about what’s bioregionally and economically appropriate. For example, reforesting mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia with blight-resistant hybrid American Chestnuts, or stabilizing eroding hillsides and gullies in the arid West with fast-growing willows, alders, and cottonwoods, or planting abandoned pastures in the Northeast with diverse fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs, or re-vegetating abandoned quarries and mining talus with seaberries (fast-growing, expansive, high-value food producing, nitrogen fixing shrubs). These regenerative land use patterns can, if correctly designed, create a fit between the local ecology, the needs of the regional human community, and the global need to sequester atmospheric carbon in woody plants and the soil.
More on carbon-sequestering agriculture and land use soon. In general this is a very under-discussed element of responding to climate change, and one that should be at the forefront of conversations about both climate change and about land use and restoration.