It’s not a secret that the United States contains some of the world’s most stunning and unique landscapes. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cross-country road trip, you know that at every twist of the highway, you can find giant cliffs, rushing rivers, haunting deserts–the list goes on. But it can be easy to forget that many of these sights are unimaginably old.
You might not know it by looking, but trees are some of the oldest known organisms on earth. And of the top ten oldest living trees with known ages, seven of them are right here in the United States (and that doesn’t even include the aspen colony called Pando, which at arguably a million years old, is the largest, heaviest organism known to humanity).
It almost goes without saying that we have to protect these ancient wonders. At 4,853 years old, a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine known as Methusalah holds the title of the oldest known living tree in the world. Methusalah is protected by the Inyo National Forest in California and by the Forest Service, who keep its exact location a carefully guarded secret. But millions of acres of other wizened trees, like many of those in the Tongass National Forest, are increasingly at risk of being cut down.
We know instinctively that these trees are worth protecting just for their own sake. But we also know that our ancient forests are our strongest bulwark against climate change. These noble trees have absorbed huge amounts of carbon over their lifetimes–and continue to keep it from being released into the atmosphere. When we fell them, we send that carbon right back into the air, intensifying the greenhouse effect that is so critical to fight.
Our forests have withstood every challenge thrown at them for millenia. They’ve proven time and time again that they are resilient, adaptive, and even collaborative (we sometimes wonder just what trees talk about). But even Methusalah, with all his long years, can’t stand up to logging, megafires, and development.
We have to do more to protect our oldest and most valuable forests. And we need to protect all the mature forests that are just nearing their 100th birthdays, too. The problem is that there are a lot of mature trees in the United States, and it’s going to take a coordinated effort to protect them. This year, we’re pledging to guard the forests that have been standing guard over us–will you join us?