Cloning Coastal Redwood Forests Could Help Fight Climate Change, Experts Say
Redwood forests isolate and absorb more carbon dioxide in the air than any other species.
Sequoia sempervirens, meaning "forever green" or "forever living" in Latin, is the scientific name for the coast redwood. And, according to scientists, these thick, strong, rapid-growing trees — considered the tallest tree species on Earth — could help to mitigate climate change and its effects on the planet.
A new study published in Science Magazine earlier this month supports the idea that planting trees generally could help to slow climate change, which is primarily caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees capture excess carbon dioxide in the air, and planting more trees could be a viable natural solution to stopping climate change. But the key to the effectiveness of this approach could be the type of trees that are planted, researchers believe.
A recent study from Humboldt State University and the University of Washington revealed that redwood forests isolate and absorb more carbon dioxide in the air than any other species through natural processes.
One of the organizations already leading redwood planting efforts is nonprofit the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, which will clone and grow new redwood trees from small samples clipped from the top of the Brotherhood Tree — which stands at 300 feet tall and is estimated to be 1,000 years old — in Klamath, California.
"There's different hormones at the top of these trees. What we hope to get when we propagate or clone a champion tree is the exact genetics of that tree. It's proven itself over time, that it can deal with adverse conditions,” Jake Milarch, director of propagation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive’s education program, told NBC News.
Champion trees are trees registered as the oldest and tallest of their species, and the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive clones these as a way to preserve trees’ genetics and help to fight climate change.
Researchers calculated that 0.9 billion hectares of forest — approximately the size of the United States — could be planted without impacting already occupied areas and could help isolate and absorb 205 gigtons of carbon dioxide in the future.
“This work captures the magnitude of what forests can do for us. They need to play a role if humanity is going to achieve our climate mitigation goals,” ecologist Greg Asner from Arizona State University said, in light of the published research. And that's especially true of redwood forests.
Undisturbed redwood forests have several positive environmental impacts, including fostering biodiversity, absorbing and storing carbon, and regenerating easily. Redwoods, in general, are resistant to natural factors of degradation, including insects and fire.
"It's a beautiful wood," Steven Meitz, superintendent of Redwood National State Parks, said to NBC News. "It’s very resistant to decay and it's very rot-resistant."
However, as with much of the other flora and fauna life on Earth, man has posed a threat to the species’ survival.
"Humans were responsible for the reduction in the entire habitat of the coastal redwoods," Meitz said, explaining that the Redwood National State Parks were formed to protect the species from commercial logging that left only 5% of the forest behind.
The parks and the Save the Redwoods League have partnered in an effort to erase the human impact by promoting accelerated regeneration of the forest.
The length of the process will take thousands of years, exceeding Meitz’s lifetime and making it necessary for the next generations to continue this work. But even so, Meitz said he and the team behind the initiative will continue to work as fast as they can.
"We're hoping to accelerate that and get it down to hundreds of years,” he said.