for National Geographic News
The towering redwood trees that once dominated the coastal forests of the U.S. West Coast may soon be restored throughout their historic range.
A group of historic tree buffs will collect genetic samples Tuesday from the tops of several old-growth redwood trees in California—the first step in cloning the trees and regrowing lost forests.
In several years, when the cloned trees are two to three feet tall (less than a meter tall), the group will plant them at various sites along the California coast.
"We can rebuild our old-growth forests when we use old-growth forest genetics," said David Milarch, cofounder of the Champion Tree Project in Traverse City, Michigan.
To assure genetic diversity, the new forests would be made of 20 percent clones and 80 percent seedlings, he said.
Milarch's organization has already cloned several historic trees, including copies of the trees George Washington planted at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia in the 18th century.
(Related: "George Washington Tree Cloned for Arbor Day Plantings" [April 29, 2004].)
The redwoods project, however, represents the organization's first attempt at using clones to restore an entire forest.
Less than 5 percent of the old-growth coastal redwood forest remains, Milarch noted, mostly due to heavy logging. Not even stumps remain in more than 75 percent of the species' historic range.
The Champion Tree Project hopes these forests—bolstered with tree genes that are more than a thousand years old—will once again thrive.
And by acting as "sinks" for heat-trapping carbon dioxide, such forests may help combat challenges such as global warming.
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