The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 22, 2013

Cloning takes California's redwoods overseas

Six countries getting ancient trees

COPEMISH, Mich. — California's mighty redwoods are going international, cloned in an effort to promote reforestation and deal with climate change.

Although measuring just 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall, the laboratory-produced trees are genetic duplicates of three giants that were cut down in northern California more than a century ago. Remarkably, shoots still emerge from the stumps, including one known as the Fieldbrook Stump, which measures 35 feet (10.7 meters) in diameter. It's believed to be about 4,000 years old. The tree was about 40 stories high before it was felled.

"This is a first step toward mass production," said David Milarch, co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a nonprofit group spearheading the project, which is planting redwoods Monday (Earth Day) in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

"We need to reforest the planet; it's imperative. To do that, it just makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees that ever lived," Milarch said.

Milarch and his sons Jared and Jake, who have a family-owned nursery in Copemish, Michigan, became concerned about the condition of the world's forests in the 1990s. They began crisscrossing the U.S. in search of "champion" trees that have lived hundreds or even thousands of years, convinced that superior genes enabled them to outlast others of their species. Scientific opinion varies on whether that's true, with skeptics saying the survivors may simply have been lucky.

The Archangel leaders say they're out to prove the doubters wrong. They've developed several methods of producing genetic copies from cuttings, including placing branch tips less than an inch long in baby food jars containing nutrients and hormones. The specimens are cultivated in labs until large enough to be planted.

In recent years, they focus has been on towering sequoias and redwoods, considered best suited to absorb massive volumes of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change.

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