Mangroves save one Philippine coastal town from the worst of Typhoon Haiyan

From PRI’s program The World, Michael Holtz reports:

Mangroves form low-lying thickets that hug the shore of coastal areas in tropical regions around the world. They serve as natural barriers that help dissipate swelling storm surges. Mayor Jamie Ty says that protection, combined with a well-executed evacuation plan, meant not one person in MacArthur died in the typhoon.

“We are lucky” Ty says. “We don’t have casualties, although we have a few injuries. But those are just superficial injuries.”

The storm killed at least 64 people in the next town to the north and more than 5,000 across the Philippines. It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if other places still had the same natural protective barriers as General MacArthur.

Rough estimates show more than 70 percent of the country’s original mangrove forests were destroyed between 1918 and 1994. Many were replaced with fishponds, resorts and other kinds of coastal development.

But at least some of the mangroves near MacArthur were spared.

“Here, here, and here. The storm surge also hits here,” says University of the Philippines professor Rene Rollon, clicking his mouse over a satellite image of MacArthur and the surrounding islands.

Rollon has studied mangroves for more than 20 years, and he says MacArthur residents are right to thank their humble trees.

“That’s a huge amount of mangroves,” he says. “It dissipates a lot of energy. So, actually, it’s protecting the town.”

Read (or listen to) the rest.

“Oldest Buddhist shrine” shows evidence of tree-worship

From the National Geographic, “Oldest Buddhist Shrine Uncovered In Nepal May Push Back the Buddha’s Birth Date“:

Digging beneath a central shrine, the researchers uncovered postholes pointing to a wooden railing surrounding a tree shrine and dating to around 550 B.C., says Coningham. They also found an older brick structure.

The center of the shrine was unroofed, the team found, and contained mineralized tree roots, surrounded by clay floors worn smooth by visitors. It was likely an ancient bodhigara, or tree shrine.

The tree roots appear to have been fertilized, and although bodhigara are found in older Indian traditions, the shrine lacked the signs of sacrifices or offerings found at such sites.

“It was very clean, in fact, which points to the Buddhist tradition of nonviolence and nonofferings,” says Coningham.

[...]

Julia Shaw, a lecturer in South Asian archaeology at University College London, called the claims for a wooden railing surrounding a possible tree shrine convincing but speculative.

She was cautious about the oldest Buddhist shrine claim.

“The worship of trees, often at simple altars, was a ubiquitous feature of ancient Indian religions, and given the degree of overlap between Buddhist ritual and pre-existing traditions, it is also possible that what is being described represents an older tree shrine quite disconnected from the worship of the historical Buddha,” Shaw says.

“Still, it does indeed present some new insights into the archaeology of Indian ritual in general,” she adds.

William Lemke’s tree photographs

Some astonishingly beautiful black-and-white photos of trees by William Lemke, a landscape photographer in the tradition of Ansel Adams, are up at the literary/art zine Escape into Life. Go look.

Suzanne Simard talks about “mother trees” and the plant-fungal network

Good interview with one of the major researchers in the field of plant-fungi interaction. Video by Dan McKinney via the University of British Columbia on Blip.tv.

It kind of surprises me that tree communication is still news to people — witness the breathless post in Treehugger — but I guess it takes years for radical new ideas to get out there. The bit about dying trees transferring information to living trees before they die was new to me, though. And I like Dr. Simard’s use of evocative language throughout. “Mother trees” — absolutely, why not?

A story of gaps in the understory

Philadelphia has a whole host of missing trees and none are more famous than the Great Elm of Shackamaxon. Jon Spruce journeys to the hereafter and back

At the time of its toppling, it was 283 years old, eight feet in diameter and twenty-four feet in circumference.
Its final height is in dispute but, if it was still alive, and even if it hadn’t grown an inch since 1810, it would stand above us all, today, as the reigning champion elm tree of Philadelphia.
Its place is commemorated with a statue of brother William Penn himself, right off Delaware Avenue, in Penn Treaty Park.

In which Ash meets… Ash!

In the second encounter of his birthday tour, Ash meet a particularly stout example of his namesake tree:

You can clearly see that our ash was once a much taller tree. Its ‘pollarding’ was severe, but the Ash today is flourishing and it has already established a fine new crown. I hope the wood-rotting fungi take it easy on the bole and roots so the tree can live out the FC’s optimistic prediction of another century or two, but there are dark clouds on the horizon in the form of Chalara fraxinea - the dreaded ash dieback that has run rampant across Europe.

The American elm which symbolises survival

The recent devastating tornado which tore through central Oklahoma prompted a meditation on the symbolism of Oklahoma’s Survivor Tree, written by Melinda Householder on the Loose Leaf Blog:

As the search continues for those who are missing, I’ve found myself reflecting on the city, the loss and the challenges that are being endured. And, I am reminded of The Survivor Tree.

This 80-year-old American elm witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks in our country. Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, this lone elm stood in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by concrete and cars, outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. While some folks enjoyed parking under the limited shade of its limbs, others thought it was an eyesore. Not much went into caring for this tree — until it was the only thing left standing.

How demand for wooden drinking cups diminished an ancient yew

Ash, at treeblog, gave himself a tree-tour of a birthday trip. In the first part of the journey, Birthday Tour (Part 1): Loch Rannoch – the Fortingall Yew – Bridge of Balgie, he meets a truly charismatic ancient tree in a post rich with historical illustration:

The Fortingall Yew is one of the oldest known trees in Europe. Allen Meredith (whose estimates according to The Tree Register Handbook “are as well-informed as anyone’s”) has suggested it could be as old as 5,000 years (along with the yews at Discoed in Powys and Llangernyw in Conwy), which is certainly something to think about. But what I find truly incredible is the gargantuan size it once reached. Forget the Yew as it stands today, so small, so utterly destroyed by ‘tourists’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, and try to wrap your mind around this: in the mid-1700s the Fortingall Yew had a girth of 56 and a half feet (17.2 m): a diameter of 5.5 metres (18 ft)! Consider that the thickest tree in Britain today is probably the Marton Oak with a dbh of 446 cm when measured around the three remaining sections of its trunk (although there are giant sequoias 7 m thick where their flared boles meet the ground). A five-and-a-half metre thick yew is phenomenal!

Memorializing through reforestation: the Flight 93 National Memorial

Readers from outside the U.S. may or may not remember, but Flight 93 was the one hijacked commercial flight on September 11, 2001 that failed to reach its target (presumably Congress or the White House) due to a passenger revolt, crashing in a field in southwest Pennsylvania. The crash site was subsequently turned over to the National Park Service as an official National Memorial. Though dedicated last year, the tree-planting is not yet complete. I’m struck by the scale of it: not just one tree per passenger, but one grove per passenger, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us.

This is the second year of the reforestation effort. The goal is to have 150,900 new trees at the location. The Flight 93 memorial includes 40 groves of trees, one grove for each passenger or crew member who died on Sept. 11, 2001 when the plane crashed as the passengers and crew battled terrorists. The memorial is operated by the National Parks Service.

The seedlings were planted by volunteers—more than 500 of them. The website says only that they are “a mixture of several native species.” (The nursery is a little over 100 miles away, so perhaps the genotypes were fairly local in origin.) The memorial groves themselves have already been planted; this subsequent, three-year effort is to provide a windbreak for the groves.

The impulse to memorialize through afforestation seems especially appropriate given the location in Pennsylvania, the only one of the states named for its forests. However, Pennsylvania also has a long history of industrial exploitation, and the Flight 93 site was no exception. As the website points out:

Part of the architect’s vision for the memorial is that it will be a place of renewal. Reclaiming the land after decades of surface mining has left much of it in open grassland.

“Reclaiming” is of course a far cry from true restoration or healing, whence the need for tree-planting. It’s interesting to me that the national trauma of 9/11 has pointed to another trauma, one we ourselves have inflicted upon the land. By tying them together like this, the memorial gains a meta dimension — a woods re-created in part to memorialize itself.

Indonesia extends its forest moratorium

Hats off to Indonesia’s president for showing the kind of leadership that’s sorely lacking from most nations in the global North. As WRIInsights reports:

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Do read the rest, which includes suggestions for ways in which the forest moratorium could be strengthened.

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