Fauna & Flora International’s David Gill describes his recent visit to the USA, and the opportunity for new global partnerships for threatened tree conservation.
I arrived in the United States at a perfect time of year to see, celebrate and promote conservation of threatened trees. Spring had sprung and Washington D.C.’s cherry trees had decorated the capital with candy floss pink blossom.
My drive out of D.C., with FFI’s Executive Director, Katie Frohardt, took us through beech and hickory forests and onto Delaware’s rolling hills, where white ash, red oak and tulip trees form a formidable canopy.
Our destination, the Mt. Cuba Centre, is a botanic garden with a history of local conservation success; having protected and grown a variety of native trees and wildflowers.
Mt. Cuba’s wildflowers had also timed their arrival perfectly; with warmer weather and longer days providing a window of opportunity for trilliums, bloodrots and bluebells to set out their stall.
Lessons learned from ancient trees
Time was also a key theme for the main event at Mt. Cuba: a guest lecture from Dean Peter Crane of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The star of his lecture, the gingko tree, is a species whose existence has spanned 200 million years and has remained remarkably unchanged over a period where dinosaurs have come and gone.
Our gathering was treated to the inside story of the gingko tree; how it came to be, how it nearly disappeared and how humans, who grew to value the tree for its beautiful leaves, timber and medicine, found a way to save it.
The talk also touched on the status of the gingko’s fellow tree species across the world. Like the gingko, these trees too trace remarkable histories. However, with more than 9,000 species across the world threatened with extinction, our own window of opportunity to secure their future is closing sharply.
The actions of the conservation community over the next few decades – an evolutionary heartbeat from the point of view of a gingko – will be crucial for the survival of the world’s threatened tree species.
Aligning local and global conservation efforts
The gathering at Mt. Cuba was brought together by FFI’s longstanding Vice President and US Board Member, Blaine T Phillips. As a long term supporter of local and global conservation efforts, Mr Phillips is helping to build new alliances for threatened tree conservation.
Mt. Cuba and the Global Trees Campaign (GTC) – a joint initiative between FFI and Botanic Gardens Conservation International – are using complementary approaches for plant conservation.
As Mt. Cuba applies its expertise in horticulture, public engagement and conservation to increase its impact across the wider landscape in Delaware, the GTC uses and requires similar skillsets, in a different context, to upscale action for some of the world’s most threatened tree species.
Forming new partnerships for threatened tree species
From Delaware to Chicago, I visited the Morton Arboretum – a partner of the GTC and a leader in tree conservation, research and education in the United States.
One particular interest for both Morton and GTC are oaks – a group of around 500 species of immense cultural, economic and ecological value. Oaks define landscapes, produce cork, timber and medicine and supply ample acorns for hungry wildlife.
They have also long been a symbol of the Morton Arboretum and feature prominently in their garden, their research and as part of their education programs.
Oaks are also in dire need of increased conservation action. Oak species, such as the Georgia oak, and oak ecosystems, are losing ground to exploitation, habitat loss and climate change.
Poor information on their status in the wild and the need to build technical capacity of partners working in-situ are key barriers to protecting and recovering oak species in the wild.
By working together, Morton and GTC aim to save the world’s most threatened oak species from extinction, building on the strengths of each partner to deploy the full range of in situ and ex situ actions required. Morton’s expertise in oak science is already being deployed to Red List the world’s oak species, thus identifying the immediate priorities for conservation action.
Embracing America’s love affair with trees
My last day in the United States coincided with Arbor Day – a holiday in the US dedicated to tree planting. I spent the morning in downtown Chicago immersing myself in tree themed events organised by Morton and reflecting on the huge level of enthusiasm, expertise and endeavour within the USA for tree conservation.
Alliances with organisations such as Mt. Cuba, Yale and Morton are essential to strengthen the links between the US and the global tree conservation communities, and ultimately deliver increased action on the ground for the tree species most likely to disappear.
As the clock ticks for the world’s threatened trees, there has never been a better time to pull together skills and resources and join the movement to save these remarkable species from extinction in the wild.