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Saving Our Forest Heritage in a Vault

Whitebark pine at Crater Lake National Park

Whitebark pine at Crater Lake National Park.

Trees are often referred to as the lungs of the earth, providing not only the oxygen we need to breathe but a filter to clean our air and water. Trees from forested lands provide timber for our homes, food for people and wildlife, protection from weather extremes and, in urban and rural settings, beautify cities and landscapes alike.

As the largest steward of forested lands in the nation, the U.S. Forest Service works to protect and enhance forest resources not only on National Forests, but on all the Nation’s forests. Our agency puts a lot of effort into safeguarding trees where they grow, but trees are increasingly at risk from fire, changes in climate, insects, diseases and development.

The Forest Health program focuses on collecting seeds and other plant materials and storing them at secure sites away from these risks. The goal of the program is to obtain seeds and other plant materials to represent the genetic diversity of trees at risk from a myriad of threats both natural and manmade.

Since 2010, the Forest Service has worked in this way to conserve the genetic variation of over 20 at-risk forest tree species including whitebark pine, bristlecone pine, Atlantic white cedar and western cypress.

We do this by observing, collecting, and conserving the major natural differences that occur in a species.  Because trees, like snowflakes never look or behave exactly the same.  This genetic diversity is important because it allows trees to adapt to changing conditions and stresses. Not only do we see differences between tree species, but it is evident within species as well.

For instance have you noticed that some trees always have brilliant fall colors while others do not?  Or the differences you see in form and growth rate of the different varieties available at your local nursery?

We want the seeds we store to represent these and other important differences such as tolerance to insects and diseases, drought and heat.  These seeds, and other plant materials, will be stored for a long time in vault-like environments so they are available in case of emergencies. In this way we will ensure that we have rich and diverse forests for generations to come.

Table mountain pine

Table mountain pine.

2 Responses to “Saving Our Forest Heritage in a Vault”

  1. Kevin Franck says:

    Unfortunately these lungs of the earth have cancer. How functional do you really believe they are now ? How efficient are cancerous lungs for a human being ? Such inefficient functioning lungs effect the rest of the whole entire body’s over all health. Other mechanized biological components wear down and cease their efficient function within the system. While yes, science can help save seeds and put them tucked away in some mysterious Norwegian vault above the article circle, how viable and healthy are those seeds to begin with ? What set of negative epigenetic environmental circumstances from a degraded health scenario have been passed on to those future generations. We can thank the misuses and abuses of industrial science for things on Earth being screwed up in the first place. No amount of tinkering is going to provide a permanent solution of than most of these corporate entities being forcibly removed like the cancer they are. Attack the cause, as opposed to treating the symptoms. If you ignore the cause the system will never heal.

  2. Anthony Leilani rosenbaum says:

    Maybe one should get in touch with Paul Stamets at fungi perfecti he may have an answer within the fungi Kingdom to help clean up the land! If we cease trying to help renew the place we call home what good is any of our Scientific studies? To spend money to go to Mars when we haven’t repaired our home is ludicrous. Keep involving children in the wonders of Science!

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