Throughout the world, big trees are not only of disproportionate value, they are at disproportionate risk in the ecosystems they inhabit. Whether it is the giant sequoias or redwoods of California, the ironwoods of Peru, or the baobobs of Africa, they hold tremendous ecological and cultural value. However, it is the oldest and largest trees that are especially attractive to loggers, who selectively cut down trees at rates that far outpace forest regeneration. Studies have shown that California has lost up to 95% of its coastal redwoods; Swedish forests have experienced a more than 90% decline in large tree density; and fragmented Brazilian rainforests saw a 50% die-off of big trees within 30 years of isolation.
Bigger Trees Generate Bigger Benefits
The value of big trees has only recently been brought to light in the scientific literature. The tropical rainforests of Africa, Asia, and South America are known to store up to half of the aboveground biomass of the forest. This tremendous density explains the unmatched carbon sequestration rates of big trees, reiterating their importance in buffering against climate change. Furthermore, sequestration rates are known to increase as the trees ages. For instance, the redwood forests of North America, some as old as 3,000 years, store more carbon per hectare than any other forest on Earth. In the tropics, big trees may represent less than 5% of stems, but store up to 50% of extant tropical forest carbon. Big trees also provide unique structural features that serve as habitat to unique species; up to 30% of all vertebrate species rely on large old trees for its sheltering cavities.
In addition to their ecological value, big trees hold aesthetic and spiritual values to those who experience them. Just in the western US alone, large, old “majestic” trees such as the giant sequoias spur tourism that draws record visitorship. In urban and suburban settings, historic or “landmark” trees are sometimes the focal point around which entire towns are built. The spiritual and intrinsic value of big trees have been recorded in secular and sacred texts alike, from ancient to modern times, across cultures spanning the world.
Our Three-Layer Approach For Protecting Big Trees
The Big Tree Project is actively identifying solutions to the pressures facing big trees in various regions. In specific forest communities of Uganda, Peru, and the US, the following three methods are being employed to protect their big trees:
- Tree Monitoring: The development phase of a tree mapping and surveillance system has been initiated. Using traditional field research techniques as well as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (better known as a drone), the goal is to map the number of big trees and local forest conditions to develop areas of local conservation priority and support existing conservation policies. The long-term goal is to use the drone in forest frontier regions to detect illegal logging and improve the information used by communities and natural resource managers
- Reforestation: A pilot project is being researched in the Peruvian Amazon to restore important big trees, such as coaba and cedar. Our researchers are actively developing a nursery and carrying out strategic plantings as well as identifying community partners and applying for funding sources
- Social Media: Our Facebook page actively engages viewers through weekly posts and campaigns to bring awareness about the importance and threats facing big trees
Like What You’re Reading?
Check out some of these recent news stories that inspires Wild Forests and Fauna to protect the planet’s largest creatures.
- Big trees, like the old-growth forests they inhabit, are declining globally
- Giant Sequoias Face Looming Threat from Shifting Climate
- Mighty Old Trees Are Perishing Fast, Study Warns
- Deep In The Amazon, An Unseen Battle Over The Most Valuable Trees
We also have opportunities for interested citizen scientists to:
- Participate in one of our mapping expeditions
- Join one of our upcoming forest restoration projects
- Post your own Big Tree pictures #bigtreetuesday, #BTT