ENVIRONMENT: National tree project has local roots

COPEMISH – What could be the largest environmental project of the decade has its roots in a nursery in northern Michigan.

The National Tree Trust in Washington, D.C. recently partnered with the Champion Tree Project, founded by David Milarch, owner of Milarch Nursery Inc. in Copemish. The partnership aims to protect Champion Trees and study and preserve their genetic makeup so others can enjoy their beauty.

A Champion Tree is the biggest specimen of its species. The Milarch family, fourth generation nurserymen, are aware of the problems plaguing the tree industry and the harsh realities facing forests’ deteriorating struggle to survive. The average life-span of newly-planted trees, in the city or country, is just seven years.

“They can’t handle the harsh environment,” explained Milarch. “And 70 percent of our old growth forests are in serious trouble.”

In 1992, at just 13 years old, Jared Milarch came up with the idea to try to look at how to preserve the biggest, oldest, and healthiest of trees–many that were here before Columbus.

“I figured if they’ve lived this long, through industrialization, through smog, acid rain and global warming, they must have something in their genetics that is different than the trees we were raising,” Jared said.

Using cells from the parent tree, they began making exact, genetic replicas of the Champions. Jared and his dad began to identify these giant specimens, some 400-500 years old. With youthful exuberance, Jared would scramble to the top of the trees and snip the tender new growth. For the next five years, they experimented with cloning the giant trees, something that had never been tried before.

They were successful in creating clones of these giants and began working with a nursery in Oregon to produce young trees with the same genetic make-up as their ancestors. David and Jared realized they had a clear glimpse at a way to save the big trees, preserve our best trees, reforest the Earth and teach youth to be better stewards than their ancestors. Enthusiasm for the big trees began to take root, as well. In 1996, after a meeting in Lansing with the Governor’s Office, a non-profit corporation was formed, with former Governor Milliken chairing its Advisory Board. A Champion Tree Protection Act was drafted. David and his teenage sons cut buds off five Michigan Champions to graft onto roots.

On Earth Day 1997, the Champion Tree Protection Act was introduced to Michigan’s Legislature with 23 sponsors. Traverse City Rotary gave a $5,000 grant for tree preservation and a business plan. Newspapers and nursery magazines ran feature stories.

“Folks quickly see the wisdom to preserve these great ancestors. People love these trees,” David said.

In 1997, a new National Champion Elm was found in a cornfield near Buckley, a few miles from the Milarch’s home. This great tree, believed to be 300-400 years old, showed no sign of the Dutch elm disease that blighted elms all around that region.

Representatives from Davey Tree Service, the Smithsonian Institute, DOW Botanical Gardens, and the National Arboretum were among many who came to see this giant–and learned about the Milarch’s Project. Nine Midwest newspapers featured stories and photos of this giant elm and 18 buds were cut for study and propagation.

Unfortunately, it was recently discovered that the tree does have the disease and they’re trying to treat it. The Milarchs are still planning to clone the cuttings, because the elm lasted so much longer than the others.

There are over 800 recognized Champion Trees across the United States, representing 867 varieties. Only 53 of them have been cloned so far. The aim of the project is to identify and clone all of them. Of the first seven clones that were successfully done at the Oregon nursery, five have proven to be viable species and are now available to the nursery industry. There is currently a five-year waiting list for the young trees.

Selected organizations are being asked to devote land to planting Champion Trees in reserved “living libraries.” The Milarchs have been involved in setting up libraries of trees on college and university campuses, arboretums, and places of government.

Along with the Champion Tree Project, Jared is being recognized throughout the country for his creation of AdzsumPlus, an organic plant nutrient derived from Adzomite, a fine rock powder that’s mined in Utah and said to be the remnants of an ancient seabed. Azomite contains 67 minerals and trace elements, many of which Jared says have been wrung out of the nation’s soil by decades of logging, acid rain, erosion and chemically-based agriculture.

Last year, Jared started his own company, EarthPlus Products, and is now distributing AdzsumPlus across the Midwest and Florida.

“A bag of AdzsumPlus goes with every Champion Tree clone that is planted in the living libraries,” Jared explained.

To order some of Jared’s products or learn more about the Champion Tree Project, go to www.championtrees.org or call David at 231-378-2172. BN