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{ 8 }  SNJ Today  |  OCTOBER 13, 2021                                                                                                                                                                                                                        OCTOBER 13, 2021  |  { 9 }
              THE GREAT OUTDOORS

      Mother Trees                                              How a researcher tapped into the wisdom

                                                                         of forest communities—and helped
                                                                    change forest management strategies.

      NATURE AROUND US                                                       J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River

           he first time I visited the primeval   what’s in our homes are created from trees.
           forest of Bear Swamp (Commercial   Our ancestors warmed themselves with
     TTownship) was back in the late      wood-fueled fires and cooled themselves in
      1980s. My husband and I went in on a   their shade. Our vessels were made (many
      cloudy day without a compass. We saw   still are) from wood. A number of our
      huge old growth trees and marveled at   medicines derive from trees. And trees also
      what we thought was a magnolia. An old   sequester carbon, releasing clean air and
      forest somehow has a magical effect on   adding moisture to the atmosphere.
      people. But without the presence of the   More people than you might guess are
      sun or a compass we got lost in the magic,   willing to admit a spiritual connection to
      and our joy turned to mild panic. We navi-  trees. In fact many societies have an epis-
      gated out by following the back-up beep-  temology that is grounded in them. Poets,
      ers from a sand plant’s front-end loaders.   photographers, and artists clearly hold our
      From there we walked a railroad right-of-  leafy companions in great regard. Some of
      way back to our car.                our most treasured poems, novels, and sto-
        In 2007 I visited a different section in   ries are tree-themed. And think about peo-
      Downe Township with Steve Eisenhauer.   ple’s reactions to trees, especially to large
      We saw giant trees, many of which were   trees being felled. Visitors flock to national
      in their final century of life. Snow and   forests that have behemoth stately trees or   On a walk in Bear Swamp, Downe Township, led by Natural Lands a hiker climbs into
      wind had destroyed much of their crowns   colorful autumn leaves. Wildlife watching   the huge hallow of a fallen tree. This dead tree will support fungal decomposition.
      but they were still omnipresent and   and trees are virtually synonymous.
      stately in their haggard elegance and, as   I’m going to accept that I’m preaching   grow. The free-to-grow concept viewed   around this concept. Botanists before her
      I would soon learn, more beneficial than   to the choir, accept that you know the vir-  the forest complex as competitive rather   recognized that plants were in a life-and-
      first presumed.                      tues of trees, and focus on Simard’s book   than cooperative. So lumbering operations   death interchange with fungus—a mutual-
        Whenever we sponsor a giant tree   and her conclusions. I didn’t expect her   would clearcut forests and then agencies   ism, with each relying on the other for an
      walk with CU Maurice River members it   exposition to be intertwined with her life,   would require them to replant.   exchange of nutrients. Yes, some fungus
      fills to capacity a short time after being   but the associations she makes between   At face value this would seem wise and   is detrimental, but many have a beneficial
      announced. When we’re on the trail and   her life and her discoveries help the read-  warranted, but the devil is in the details.   and essential connection.
      we see a massive tree, people are usually   er to connect more easily with her ideas   Since trees were thought to compete for   The reader follows Simard’s discovery
      eager to encircle it. So when Suzanne   and findings.                     space and nutrients, a monoculture of   process when she first pulled up saplings
      Simard, professor of Forest Ecology at   Simard grew up in a lumbering fam-  the most desired varieties was planted   and found networks of fungal threads on
      the University of British Columbia, wrote   ily in British Columbia where trees and   after a clearcut. And to guarantee that   the roots of trees that were doing better
      and released Finding the Mother Tree, it   the harvesting of trees rule. Her grand-  monoculture, a herbicide developed in the   than those without the thread-like struc-
      seemed likely that it would be popular.   father had a log flume on the sides of the   early 1970s, Roundup (glyphosate), was   tures—hyphal branches. She began to
      She had given TED Talks (Technology,   mountain and the family wrestled with   used to kill any herbaceous competitors   study the fine details of these hyphal links;
      Entertainment, Design) on YouTube and   the dangers of moving trees via booms on   before planting the replacement forest. It   most are microscopic. And she suspected
      been interviewed many times after she   Canada’s Lake Mabel. They balanced on   was assumed that trees would grow more   that they were integral to successful
      published a study in the journal Nature.   springboards to fell huge giants, like west-  swiftly, to be harvested again in 100 years,   growth in a forest.
      In fact James Cameron’s mystical film   ern white pines that would take two men   without any competition. This was consid-  Foresters presumed that birches were
      Avatar was inspired by her work, and   two days to cut through. It was strenuous   ered to be a well-managed forest.  a drain on the more financially desir-
      more recently the bestseller, Overstory,  and dangerous work, the kind of work   Simard’s internships with a logging   able Douglas fir, and thus increased their
      loosely based one of its fictional charac-  that builds respect for a forest. These trees   company gave her the job of checking   investment in monoculture over mixed
      ters on her work.                   were cut with manpower and harvesting   clearcuts and reporting back on the health   forests. Simard saw these reforested plots
        I thought that Finding the Mother   was selective as opposed to clearcuts.  of the new monoculture forest. Her find-  as failing.
      Tree would be well-received but I hardly   It was in Simard’s blood to become   ings were dismal—a large percent of the   As her life and professions evolved
      expected it to become a New York Times  a forester. However, during the later   new trees were sickly, if not dead.   she was able to further test her theories,
      bestseller. Surely there is something in our   years of obtaining her forestry degree she   She suspected that trees had an inter-  especially after she joined the academic
      psyche, dare I say, that links us to trees and   became disenchanted with the massive   dependence and that this interdepen-  world. She set up test plots of monocul-
      forests. Surely there is good reason for us to   modern-day operations, primarily because   dence was linked to mycorrhizal fungus.   ture vs. three species growing together.
      feel conjoined. Our homes and so much of   of the “agency policies” that were free-to-  She devoted her life to making discoveries   By using carbon-13 and carbon-12 tracers
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