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Saving Ancient Trees With Clones

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive about their project to plant clones of ancients tree on the Oregon coast.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In a remote spot on the Oregon coast this week, a group of people gathered for a kind of revival. Members of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive planted clones of two- and three-thousand-year-old redwood and sequoia trees. The cuttings were gathered from giants that had been logged back in the late 1800's. David Milarch, who heads the project, joins us on the phone from Port Orford, Oregon. Thanks very much for being with us.

DAVID MILARCH: Well, it's an honor and a pleasure to be here, Scott.

SIMON: I got to ask first: how do you get a cutting from a tree that was cut down more than a century ago?

MILARCH: We literally stumbled into them looking for the largest live coast redwoods. And it was akin to finding a dinosaur that was still preserved laying on its side. So, it was just dumb luck.

SIMON: So, what do you do? You get a cutting from that tree and then what happens?

MILARCH: Well, we really didn't know at that time and we didn't even know at that time nobody had thought of it or had ever done it. That was two years ago. So, I was with my son Jake, and Jake goes, well, look, dad. Look over here on the other side. And he found some shoots that were green and they were attached to the roots and some of the base of the 35-foot-diameter stump. And he goes why don't we try these? And that's exactly how it was birthed.

SIMON: So, you planted these cuttings and what'll happen?

MILARCH: Well, number one, we were astounding that something over 2,000 years old decided to put roots on itself and live again. So, after the jubilation - and there was real jubilation at Archangel - we came up with the grand idea of using these trees that were lost to the world and planting them in old growth forest groves. And I'm happy to say that we're well on our way of attaining that goal.

SIMON: As I understand, old growth forest, it won't look like much of anything for a few hundred years.

MILARCH: Well, that's not true. What most people don't understand about coast redwoods and giant sequoias is that they're probably the second-fastest-growing tree on earth that I know of, only second only to the eucalyptus. And they will grow 10 feet a year, and that is a lot of stored carbon in a very short period of time. Groves of those or forests of those will really make a measurable dent in the CO2 imbalance in our atmosphere.

SIMON: Why are they planted in Port Orford?

MILARCH: Well, it's an ideal place because it's rainier with lots of fog, which these trees need here, than almost anywhere on the Pacific Coast. It's ideal.

SIMON: Mr. Milarch, what brought you into this Archangel Ancient Tree Archive?

MILARCH: Well, we've been in the shade tree business in northern Michigan for several generations. And 20 years ago, our trees that we were growing for the cities and nurseries started to die and we didn't know why. Well, after a couple of years and a lot of research, we found out it was due in large part to the decline in air quality. So, we were trying to find an answer of trees that could be stronger, hardier, could take the increase in temperature as well as the increase in toxins in the air. And it just kind of popped forward one day while we were all pruning - we said, well, why don't we try and clone the largest, oldest trees when they have a better chance of be stronger. And it was just birthed out in the field one day.

SIMON: Do you have plans for more plantings?

MILARCH: Yes. We have eight countries in mind. Right now, we have cloned 22 of the oldest, largest oaks in Ireland - thousand-year-old oaks. And our next old growth forest that we build will probably be somewhere in Europe. But we're building these old growth forests to be a model for the world that, number one, it can be done. But I think it's important that people understand that the reason we're doing this too is the archive, for the first time in the history of the world, the world's greatest trees genetics, so they can be studied and utilized long, long into the future.

SIMON: David Milarch is co-founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. And, by the way, his story is told in a recent book by author Jim Robbins: "The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet." Mr. Milarch, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MILARCH: It really was a pleasure, Scott. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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