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Group is cloning, replanting ancient trees

Tree archive co-founder David Milarch (bottom) and his son, Jake, with a redwood stump in California they have cloned. Tree archive co-founder David Milarch (bottom) and his son, Jake, with a redwood stump in California they have cloned. (Archangel Ancient Tree Archive/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 14, 2011

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COPEMISH, Mich. — Redwoods and sequoias towering majestically over California’s northern coast. Oaks up to 1,000 years old nestled in a secluded corner of Ireland. The legendary cedars of Lebanon.

They are all remnants of once-vast populations decimated by logging, development, pollution, and disease. A nonprofit organization called Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is rushing to collect their genetic material and replant clones to help restore the world’s ancient forests and put them to work cleansing the environment and absorbing carbon dioxide, which is largely responsible for global warming.

“In our infinite wisdom, we’ve destroyed 98 percent of the old-growth forests that kept nature in balance for thousands of years,’’ said David Milarch, the group’s cofounder. “That’s what we intend to put back.’’

Milarch, a tree nursery operator from the northern Michigan village of Copemish, and his sons Jared and Jake have been producing genetic copies of ancient trees since the 1990s. They have joined with Leslie Lee, an Elk Rapids businesswoman, and a team of researchers to establish the Archangel Archive, which has a staff of 17 and an indoor tree research and production complex.

Its mission: Clone the oldest and largest individuals within the world’s most ecologically valuable tree species, and persuade people to buy and plant millions of copies — on factory grounds and college campuses; along riverbanks and city streets; in forests, farms, parks and back yards.

“The number of these ancient survivors that go in the ground will be the ultimate measure of our success,’’ said Lee, who donated several million dollars to get the project off the ground and serves as board chairwoman.

Scientific opinion varies on whether trees that survive for centuries have superior genes, like champion race horses, or simply have been in the right places at the right times to avoid fires, diseases, and other misfortunes.

But Archangel Archive is a true believer in the super-tree idea. The group has tracked down and cloned some of the biggest and oldest of more than 60 species and is developing inventories.

The plan is eventually to produce copies of 200 varieties that are considered crucial.