The (Very Slow) Race to Move Forests in Time to Save Them

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this story is basically appeared on mother jones and is part of climate desk Cooperation.

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I left Oregon because I wanted to see the future. Our rapidly changing climate bothers me, keeps me awake at night – maybe you’ve felt it too – and lately I’ve become particularly preoccupied with trees. In California, where I live, climate change almost helped me die 62 million trees In 2016 alone, and last year, 4.2 million acres Our state got burnt. I wanted to know what our forests are for and, because we humans depend so heavily on them – for clean air, for carbon sequestration, for biodiversity, for habitat, for wood and wealth, for pleasure. For – what were we in store?

I read about a group of scientists who were not only studying disasters in our forests, but also working to help trees migrate before the impending doom. So in May, I headed to a 3½-acre stand of about 1,000 Douglas firs at a US Forest Service nursery outside Medford. The grove was located in a wide valley in the southwestern corner of the state, between the Cascades to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west. Forest Service scientist Brad St. Clair, who has studied the genetic adaptation of trees for more than two decades, met me by road. He’s short and rugged, as if built for adventure and care in the life of the trees, and he arrived in a souped-up Sprinter van loaded with an arsenal of outdoor gear. In 2009, he and his team planted another eight stands after collecting seeds from populations of 60 trees in Washington, Oregon and California and growing them into seedlings in greenhouses. The seeds were sourced in the Sierras as high as 5,400 feet and as low as the coast, from Mendocino County, California, all the way north to central Washington, and planted in intermix clusters at each of nine sites. in order to see how they would fare in a hotter, drier climate than the climate they came from. In other words, to see if they will be able to make it in the future.


Douglas fir, a tall, narrow-trunked evergreen, often dragged indoors for Christmas, is a favorite of foresters and logging companies because of its combination of strength, fast growth, and viability. It can also withstand a change in climate of about 4 degrees Fahrenheit without much trouble. But global average temperatures have already risen by about 3 degrees since the early 1900s, and all models predict that average temperatures will blow through a 4-degree range over the next several decades, perhaps 7 degrees by the end of the century. Above this.

In the wide, flat expanse of the nursery, the fir was surrounded by fallow land. St. Clair instructed me to put on safety glasses, and then he bent down, pushed the outermost branches aside, and slid into the trees. I followed him. Within two steps, we were in a true, dense forest, as if an enchanted cupboard had been opened to reveal a changed world. On the periphery it was hot, but here, as we proceeded through the dapple, it was cold and fragrant with pine.

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We mark the origin of the group of trees standing below with a sign on the PVC pipe. They came, St. Clair explained, from Siskiyou, Oregon, an arid region at a height slightly higher than where we were today. That’s why they were doing so well: their native climate was not so different from that of Medford. As we went on, the trees got smaller, getting greener and fuller. Because this next batch was from above in the Cascades, he explained, at a height much higher than where we were standing, the trees in this new habitat were somewhat reduced and could not grow for long. We kept on walking, and after a while the trees rose again, three times my height before breaking into the sky. These trees also came from arid climates, like Medford, and so found a happy home here – at least for now.

We ducked and wandered through the low thickets of healthy trees until we suddenly came out of the woods with what I can only describe as a tree apocalypse—an open tangle of dead branches, brown and brittle. , like an honest graveyard. These unlucky trees, St. Clair said, came from the Oregon coast, where it’s much wetter. While he did fine in the first three years of the study, he couldn’t make it for long. “As the climate warms,” ​​said St. Clair, looking around and pointing to a dead cedar with his walking stick, “you’re going to see more of it.”

The future of forests is too grim – too grim for some of us to bear. by 2030, 75 percent of redwood Some of their coastal California habitats will disappear. In some climate scenarios, almost nothing The namesake species will exist in Joshua Tree National Park. Sea level changes are creating ghost forests on the eastern seaboard—already, less than a third The Atlantic white cedar of New Jersey remains the habitat.

Like humans, forests have always migrated for their existence, with new trees growing in more hospitable directions and old trees dying where they are no longer best suited to live. Now the problem is that they can’t move fast enough. The average forest migrates at a rate of about 1,640 feet each year, but to overtake climate change, it must grow by approx. 9,800 to 16,000 feet– 10 times faster. And in most habitats, the effects of highways, suburban sprawl and megafarms prevent forests from expanding further. Forests cannot survive climate change on their own.

In 1992, forest geneticist F. Thomas Leidig and JH Kitzmiller coined the term “assisted species migration”. fundamental studies in the magazine Forest Ecology and Management. Since then, hundreds of biologists and geneticists such as St. Clair have been studying how to move forests before their imminent destruction. Doing so requires a complex set of mapping and experiments – for example, understanding which climates are best suited for growing trees, which regions will most closely resemble the same climate, assuming Take, 50 years, and which adaptations best ensure that a tree will take root and thrive, form symbiosis with soil fungi, and not be the end of a mere matchstick waiting for the next megafire.

St. Clair is an Assisted Migration Evangelist, a firm believer that we need to move tree populations, and faster, if we want to keep pace. But due to bureaucratic impasse and a fervent commitment to the planting of native species, there is little assisted migration in the United States—unlike Canada, where the practice has been adopted with more urgency in recent years. St. Clair and other Forest Service scientists are working to transform assisted migration from a mere research topic to a standard management strategy in our vast, endangered public lands.

We ended our walk through St. Clair’s Baby Forest, making our way to cars along its outer edges. “The future is terrifying,” I told him. He understood what I meant, he said.

During the conversation he gives about his research, he likes to show an image of Lewis Carroll. through the Looking Glass, in which the Red Queen advances with her crown and strong scepter, pulling the frenzied Alice with her. He printed out the slide and handed it over to me as we left. “Now, here, you see,” the Red Queen says to Alice, “everything you can to keep in one place is going on.”

“So that’s what we have to do,” he told me, pointing to the Red Queen. “We have to run.”

While assisted migration A relatively new concept, the movement of forests is as old as the trees themselves. Ever since they first evolved, trees have been shifting in height north and south, east and west, up and down as the climate changed. As the ice ages the forests were overtaken by frost, and as the snow began to melt, they moved back to the other side, crossing mountain ranges and flanking the continents themselves—moving, sensitively, to climatic conditions. which were adapted to their ability to grow and produce trees. of the future.

Of course, while forests move, individual trees cannot. “They’re stuck where they are,” says Jessica Wright, a senior Forest Service scientist based in Davis, Calif., who studies conservation genetics. Whatever environment the trees land in, they must try to survive. And yet, writes Peter Wohleben hidden life of trees, while every tree has to stand, “it can reproduce, and in that brief moment when the embryos of the tree are still packed into the seed, they are free.” The Seed Comes Out as Zach St. George Chronicles tree tour, by the wind or by filling in the belly of a blue jay or in the cheek of a squirrel, towards your destiny. If it is one of the luckiest, it will find a hospitable home and take over the forest. Since the seeds will take root only in areas conducive to their growth, the forest moves in the direction of its future existence.

Unlike humans, most trees are long-lived species, ranging from the yellow birch, which lives about 150 years, to the bristlecone pine, the oldest known of which is about 5,000 years old. Forests are a complex civilization of trees, which function not unlike human cities: a community of creatures that talk to each other and organize and protect themselves and produce offspring and bid farewell to their dead. Like this and many others, recent research has shown, trees are mesmerizing, amenable to anthropomorphism. They live in interdependent networks like families, where, with the help of symbiotic fungi, scientists like Susan Simard have discovered, they care for their sick, feed on each other, and, like a mutual aid society, Share resources with those in need. Trees of the same species—and sometimes even within species—respect each other’s individual space, changing their growth patterns so that all get enough sunlight. Trees are also efficient community organizers that…


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