With ropes, harnesses and sterile cutting supplies, the team of tree geneticists from Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (AATA) moves into the Redwood grove. They’ve come to collect samples from some of the largest and oldest living things on earth, which have been driven to the brink of extinction from logging.
“The surveys show that about 98% of the old growth redwood forests are gone," says AATA co-founder David Milarch. "Those are lost. We’ve moved to try and get the genetics before they blink off the face of the earth."
Milarch helps run the nonprofit organization, whose preservation process is relatively straightforward. The team receives nominations from around the globe, and after checking out the potential candidate, assesses whether the tree’s genes would be a viable and valuable addition to their growing archive. They only move on trees they receive permission to harvest from, and the effort required is considerable, with killed climbers ascending hundreds of feet to clip young growth from the very tops of the trees.
Once the specimen is collected, often a small branch, it will be taken to an archive where special hormone treatments and delicate temperature controls act as catalyst for new root growth. AATA’s largest archive is in Michigan—where Milarch is from—and it's currently collecting funds to open an international archive in Ireland, as well as a West Coast archive in southern Oregon.
By compiling a living library and propagating new growth, AATA hopes to combat global warming with fresh oxygenation and insulation against carbon dioxide—not to mention the forests where these ancient groves exist are some of the most popular and breathtaking tourist attractions in our national parks (for our awe-inspiring Redwood hike, click here.)
“Most people that come to an old growth grove for the first time will walk into a grove and, all of a sudden, they become very quiet,” says Milarch. “There’s a reverence. It’s like entering a cathedral.”
And today, on Earth Day 2013, AATA is fully realizing its potential to become the planet's modern-day Johnny Appleseed, as its coastal redwood clones are being planted in nine locations in seven different countries—Germany, Ireland, Wales, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and the United States (California and Oregon).