Saving trees: a story about going further

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Saving trees: a story about going further

Sponsor generated content

Can cloning halt climate change? It might sound like science fiction — but while it definitely involves science, arborist David Milarch believes it’s not fiction.

In fact, it is David’s life’s work as a former Ford employee and the founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. Driven by a singular goal — to reforest the world with ancient trees — David is just the kind of visionary Ford’s Go Further campaign celebrates.

A native of Copemish, Michigan, David comes from a long line of arborists. He founded the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive more than 20 years ago, firm in the belief that he could clone — and save — the largest living trees on earth. David says success could help reverse the effects of climate change.

“We found six champion trees, which are the measured largest of their species, and my sons Jared and Jake climbed them,” David says. “We took the tissue out of them, and we had nurseries in Oregon that said they would try and clone these trees for us.”

Remarkably, David’s plan worked. “Almost every step of the way, the experts told us this is impossible, it can’t be done. But here we sit,” he says, gesturing toward a greenhouse full of tree starts. “And it works.”

Archangel’s mission? Collect genetic material from ancient trees, some of which are nearly extinct. Propagate the material in a lab to grow new trees, while also compiling an archive of DNA for future study and use. Then plant trees where they can release oxygen — with the ambitious aim of putting the brakes on global warming.

Archangel arborists select trees with certain characteristics — longevity, hardiness, and resilience — that make them most beneficial to the environment. Many are two and three thousand years old. Some trees have particular biological skills: coast redwoods, for example, are champions at filtering carbon. Others have historical value, like the giant sequoia trees Sierra Club founder John Muir brought from Yosemite to his home in California, or the beech trees famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted planted in Central Park.

Collection isn’t easy. Climbers might scale halfway up a 300-foot tree to reach fertile material. Conversely, sometimes even stumps left after forest fires can yield productive tissue for cloning. In either case, the payoff is enormous: A thousand cuttings can produce as many as a million tree starts.

And at a time when as little as two percent of virgin forest remains in the U.S., David’s work to save ancient trees and repopulate barren stands of forest takes on new urgency.  

“What old growth forests do to clean the air and clean the water kept everything in balance and in check,” David says. “And in our infinite wisdom, what did we do? We cut down 98 percent of those forests.”

Determined to reverse the damage, Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has planted old growth forests in seven countries so far. From the ancient giants, David is finding new life to help the planet.

“If we can do what we’ve done here, and affect the world as we have, just think of what you could do,” David says. “One person can make a difference. A big difference.”

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