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Hey, Don't Forget the Trees


If you ask me, some threatened species have it easy -- at least as far as PR goes. Check out the annually updated International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, and you'll see just what I mean. Bonobos, whale sharks, mountain lions -- the usual suspects are accounted for. And, among others there, you'll find the jazzy-looking, critically endangered harlequin toad and the endangered Asian colobine monkey. (The IUCN goes so far as to describe him as "handsome," and, by golly, he is.) But you'll also find over five thousand threatened tree species on the Red List, and just over a thousand of them are considered critically endangered.

Thankfully, people like Sara Oldfield are doing all they can to raise the trees' collective profile. This week, Oldfield, secretary general of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in London, gave a talk at The Morton Arboretum near Chicago, and what she had to say was certainly disconcerting. "Plants are often overlooked in biodiversity debates," she noted in a recent news release, but trees anchor ecosystems worldwide. "Often, animals are discussed, but what about the plants on which they depend?"

That's a very good question. In particular, 78 species of oak trees are considered globally threatened with extinction in the wild, and 17 of those are threatened in the U.S. Furthermore, the BGCI considers 19 maple tree species to be either critically endangered or endangered. Just what's behind all of those threatened trees? In the case of many oaks in the U.S., it's something called sudden oak death disease, but that's not all. For general losses, Oldfield blames deforestation, climate change, invasive alien species, over-exploitation of species, and pollution.

Fortunately, initiatives such as the Global Trees Campaign exist to help preserve the most threatened tree species, and the Morton Arboretum and others are comparing notes to compile a world "inventory" of tree species. For my part, even though it's admittedly a long way off, I'm already thinking about the return of Arbor Day and spring weather. I'll be planting a few extra trees this year, and, if you're able, I hope you will, too.