“Once a tree is rooted in one place, it’s rare for it to wind up in another. Forests, though, are restless things”. In his book, “The Journeys of Trees”, Zach St. George explores forest migration: the current situation as it relates to climate change and the debate around human interference to help trees adapt to environments more suitable for them. We spoke with Zach about his book during a Forest Futures Salon (watch the recording here) and he confessed that prior to writing this book he was “just a reporter” who was not botanically inclined. He read a story in the New York Times about the Sequoia trees suffering from a California drought and recalled being mesmerized by these giant, iconic trees as a child. Are the places where they currently exist no longer suitable for them? And so the rabbit hole of trees as a vessel to understand how the world was changing began…
Zack’s journey to better understand the Sequoias, led him to a grove of them right here in Placer County- 25 miles west of Lake Tahoe. For a long time, people assumed that if plants existed in one place that is where they were supposed to be, but this grove of six Sequoias surrounded by Pine and Fir trees seemed a bit out of place. It is hard to know for sure how these trees got separated from the rest. John Muir believed that the glaciers split the forest apart. Modern scientists believe that they took different routes over the mountains as the mountains were rising three-four million years ago. Regardless of how they got here, it brings up the topic of human intervention to help trees in the distant future. What is our role in participation if we think trees would be better suited elsewhere and is it a wise conservation method? This is the central question of the book.
While Zack shows both sides of the argument, he leaves it up to the reader to answer that question. We know that landscapes are always changing, we cannot assume underlying stability. But trees move slowly and may not be able to keep up with the rate of migration, which could cause extinction. We also know that humans have always experimented with taking things and moving them somewhere else, especially with agriculture. However, experiments often backfire (such as experiments with Ash, American Chestnut and American Elm trees), trees can be ecologically harmful and old species can be killed off with new. Even taking into account historical data, fossils or mathematical models, we can’t predict what the future will be like for these trees. When climate changes, the arrangement of species also change.
Trees can uniquely bridge the gap between human experience which gives them a metaphorical weightiness. When you plant a tree now, it will impact how your community looks for decades and centuries to come.
If all the greatest aesthetes and engineers that ever lived were assembled in some heavenly workshop and commissioned to devise a material with the strength, versatility, and beauty of wood I believe they would fall far short. Wood is one of the wonders of the universe.
-Zach St. George
Please join us on our journey to find market-based and collaborative solutions to help save our trees. Donate to our Forest Futures Fund.
About Forest Futures
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures work focuses on a Venture Lab model to fuel innovation, cultivate sustainable economies for our region and create new jobs with the ultimate goal of preventing forest fires. We host several events a year as part of the Forest Futures Salon Series to engage in productive conversations with scientists, investors, policymakers, artists and entrepreneurs to work towards a healthier forest.