How restoring old-growth forest in Washington state could help fight climate change

By Evan Bush
Scientists are using cutting-edge research in their efforts to restore Southwest Washington’s Ellsworth Creek Preserve, in hopes of easing the impacts of climate change.

Standing between nearly uniform rows of hemlock trees, scientist Tiara Moore clutched a tiny vial of evidence.

Filled with dirt and no bigger than her pinkie finger, the vial contained traces of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of creatures that had oozed by, crawled past or fluttered into this tiny corner of the Ellsworth Creek Preserve.

The microscopic flecks of DNA — from insects, amoebas and mushrooms — could help tell the story of a forest trying to regrow to its former might.

These forest forensics, part of a fast-growing field called environmental DNA, will tell researchers what’s living here, which, in turn, tells forest managers if what they’re doing is working here.

The soil where Moore dug for DNA was once rooted with old-growth trees common across the coastal Northwest, before decades of clear-cutting stripped them from the land.

Restoring landscapes like these helps take up and store more carbon, part of the solution to reduce the impacts of climate change.

The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit which owns about 8,000 acres at Ellsworth, hopes Moore’s work can help in pursuit of a longtime Northwest quest: to restore its old-growth forests — rich with biodiversity — and fast.

“These are some of the most carbon-rich systems on Earth,” said David Rolph, director of land conservation for the organization in Washington. “Could we rebuild?”

The conservancy’s theory — backed by years of Northwest forest science — was that thinning and mimicking nature would create a more complex, vibrant forest with a diversity of species, more light for trees and less competition among them for nutrients.

“Any modeling you do will show you get bigger trees faster with thinning,” Rolph said. “You can manipulate and accelerate that complexity.”

The larger the tree, the more carbon can be absorbed and stored, making old-growth forests a boon to mitigating climate change.

Source: How restoring old-growth forest in Washington state could help fight climate change – Seattle Times, 2019-09-23