Planting Redwoods to Fight Climate Change
Written by Hailey Tapia, Spring 2022 Editorial Intern at Berkeley Pharma Tech.
We live in an era characterized by the dangers of climate change. Trees are no exception to this; each year, 15 billion of them are lost to deforestation. Trees are vital to everything around us, and taking them away has devastating effects on both the environment and humans. Most notably, trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), alleviating greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. But CO2 will only continue to increase if we keep doing harm to the planet. From nonprofit groups to the government, the United States is planting trees to tackle the climate crisis, and currently we are spearheading the global reforestation efforts.
What is Reforestation?
Deforestation refers to acts of cutting down or clearing forests. Conversely, reforestation is the replanting of trees after forest loss as the result of natural disturbances, like wildfires, floods, insects, and disease, or unnatural disturbances, like agricultural clearing, logging, mining, and infrastructure.
Trees are life’s most valuable resources. Promptly restoring deforested areas allows for forest canopy that provides many benefits, including:
- Accelerated development of healthy forest structures and desirable biodiversity
- Restoration of wildlife habitat
- Clean and abundant water
- Job opportunities and economic growth
- Soil erosion reduction by their roots holding soil in place and their foliage
- Most relevantly, removing atmospheric carbon to counter greenhouse gas emissions
Climate change plays a big role in the planet’s need for reforestation. Trees naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and less carbon dioxide means less pollution and less global warming. Reforestation also conserves and promotes genetic diversity for trees to adapt to a changing climate.
It goes without saying that reforestation is a crucial tool in the fight against global warming, but are all trees a good fit for the carbon-capturing job? We can look to the California coast to answer this question.
Redwoods have a number of characteristics that make them the ideal carbon capture agents. For one, they are one of the largest trees in the world, commonly reaching a diameter of 5 to 10 feet and height of over 250 feet. Their size enables storage of up to 981 U.S. tons of carbon per acre, more CO2 per acre than any other forest type on the planet. Moreover, redwood trees are endurance champions, some living to an age of 1,300 years or more and surviving thousands of years of natural disasters and wild temperature shifts. And it is their longevity that mainly renders them the best in the world at storing climate-change-causing carbon.
Given their carbon capture capabilities, why have we not begun planting redwood groves by the boatload? Unfortunately, these trees do not flourish just anywhere, take a long time to grow, and prefer damp conditions that are more rare than they were before. This is why Berkley Pharma Tech wants to make redwoods drought-resistant; since they are selective about where they want to live and thrive, drought resistance means we can plant them anywhere.
Planting is not the only way redwood trees come about, though. They have a few unique means of reproduction:
- Through seeds. Redwood cones dropped from the branches contain seeds, and the heat from a forest fire releases the seeds’ genetic materials and gives them ideal conditions to grow.
- Cuttings, or branches cut from the tree. They are nurtured until they can be planted and thrive, taking anywhere between 6 and 12 months to begin growing a root system.
- Stump sprouts, or growths from the base of an existing tree. The clone has identical genetics to the mother tree.
- Root sprouts. Redwood roots grow horizontally and continuously layer as new sediment piles on top of them during floods. Once new growth sprouts from the surface roots, there is essentially an identical twin tree neighboring the original.
Reforestation Progress in the U.S.
The United States, namely the USDA Forest Service, is particularly focusing hard on reviving forests, and it has compiled some useful data on current global measures, the necessity of reforestation, and the advantages of tree planting to both us as a nation and as part of the rest of the globe.
Take Grant Domke, for example. As a research forester with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, Domke studies the ways in which forests capture carbon and how reforestation impacts the amount of carbon a forest stores, working alongside his team in the Forest Inventory & Analysis Program (FIA) to analyze data from, inventory, and inspect thousands of forested FIA plots throughout the nation. According to Domke, replanting areas where trees were degraded or deforested can potentially increase possible carbon capture capacity by roughly 20%.
Since the late 1800s and early 1900s, the USDA has been re-establishing unstocked lands due to natural catastrophes, insects, agricultural practices, or human activity. The Organic Administration Act of 1897 authorized the establishment of national forests “to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries” rather than for recreational or aesthetic purposes. The Weeks Law of 1911 created several national forests to restore forests logged or cleared for agriculture on previously private lands. And though most tree planting initiatives on national forest grounds during the early 20th century were in response to wildfires, the USDA’s scope has grown to include watershed restoration, post-fire restoration, forest health restoration, wildlife habitat restoration, and, of course, carbon capture. There even is the Climate Change Program Office, which coordinates agricultural, rural, and forestry-related climate change program and policy issues across the USDA.
Berkeley Pharma Tech’s Contributions
We at Berkeley Pharma Tech want the world to experience environmental synergy. Our research is multiplying the reforestation efforts already happening in the U.S., and we have a strategy to improve redwood trees for carbon capture. Using the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, our team will induce drought resistance in them so that they can be planted anywhere. But our work is only as strong as the individuals backing it, which is why we released the CRISPR token. This personal cryptocurrency allows people like you to fund our project and become personally involved in preparing redwoods to be the strongest carbon-storing superheroes.
Deforestation poses a growing threat to all life on Earth, driving dangerous carbon emissions. Restoring our forests is crucial to combatting the climate crisis, and there is no tree too big or small to help along the way.
About Berkeley Pharma Tech
Based in Silicon Valley, Berkeley Pharma Tech is a biotechnology incubator for today’s young scientists. We are making strides toward medical revolutions through a variety of avenues, including biomedical research, cryptocurrency engineering, and software development. Our goal for the CRISPR project is to create a cleaner, more vibrant environment for the next generation, with net zero — a state of balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere — being a focal point. For more information about the CRISPR project and Berkeley Pharma Tech, visit our website or any of our social media channels below.