For the last several years, Colville tribal member Darren McCrea has been expressing concern to anyone who would listen that trees across the planet are dying.
Last month, McCrea’s observations were published in Western Forester, the official publication of the Society of American Foresters Northwest Office in an article written and supported by Umatilla Tribal member Don Motanic, a technical specialist with the Inter-tribal Timber Specialist.
McCrea has seen changes throughout his lifetime on his family’s allotment on the Spokane Reservation, and he attributes the changes to the increase in carbon dioxide levels across the globe.
“Pre-industrial revolution, our CO2 sat at 280 part per million. Today it sits at 419,” said McCrea. “That is one point shy of a 50 percent increase. Those elevated levels are forcing our vegetation to grow at an accelerated rate. It’s a fact.”
In the Western Forester article, Motanic points out research “has confirmed Darren’s observations that CO2 levels could be affecting the growth patterns of a tree’s leaves and needles.”
McCrea, a longtime forestry technician and logger, came to his understanding of the effects of CO2 on plant growth in an unorthodox way. Running one of the first medical marijuana grows in Washington in 2003, McCrea would pump CO2 into his grow room to accelerate the plant growth. It worked, he said - though he was raided and sent to jail for a short time.
When he applied the knowledge to his observations, he began to form his understanding of the effects of elevated levels of CO2 across the world.
Amongst his observations, McCrea notes trees are growing too fast. Their roots are unable to keep up with the growth and provide sufficient nutrients to the plants, he said, so the roots are shallow and insufficient to support the new growth and the limbsbecome brittle and more susceptible to damage.
McCrea also notes tree limbs are curling up and needles are deforming into needle clusters at the end of a branch rather than in distribution on the branch. Rather than shed the needles every 2 to 3 years, which is typical for pine trees in our region, according to McCrea, the trees hold onto their needles for six years or more.
“Right now those trees out there that those firefighters are fighting to save have twice the amount of needles on them than they historically had,” said McCrea.
The needles themselves are more brittle and missing a cuticle covering, said McCrea. “Indian country has weaved with one pine needle at a time, forever. If they pulled apart that easy, they would not have been used. If they turned to powder when dry, they would not have been used.”
“Our vegetation is dead,” said McCrea. “Our people are way out away from anywhere else. We are not going to have any food. We need to start looking at these things ... We need to start looking at food sovereignty. We have a couple hundred thousand acres of irrigated farmland along the Columbia. My suggestion, my plea is to reach out to farmers and start creating food for the people.”