Meeting the scientists working to save our trees.
In June, 2023, I spent five days with writer Eric Aldrich from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Ryan Smith, my Reel Quest Films partner, traveling New Hampshire to Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. Our mission was to capture the still photos, video, and information needed to tell the story of the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to to save several North American trees species that are at risk of going extinct due to invasive pests and pathogens: American elm, Eastern Hemlock, multiple ash species, and American beech.
We met scientists testing the viability of disease-resistant elms in Vermont, tagging healthy hemlock and ash trees in the Adirondacks, searching for healthy trees in pest-ridden forests in the Catskills, and sequencing DNA from healthy trees in a lab at the University of Connecticut. Scientists like TNC’s Tammara Van Ryn (above) are also developing strategies and mobile apps to crowdsource information about trees with the help of citizen scientists.
Trees are dead and dying
It was sad to see how widespread the death of these trees were in some places, particularly in the Catskills region of New York. Almost every ash and hemlock tree we encountered there was either dead or infected with a pest that would kill it within a few years. We spent two days in New York’s Mohonk Preserve with researchers Jonathan Rosenthal and Radka Wildova of the Ecological Research Institute, who showed us many stands of dead and dying trees, but also managed to find at least one “lingering” ash during our visit. Lingering trees are those that appear to have survived a pest or pathogen, when all neighboring trees have died. These lingering trees may hold the clues that can save the species from extinction.
Out of the woods and into the lab
After spending four days in the woods, we made the trip to the lab at the Institute for Systems Genomics at the University of Connecticut, to meet with Dr. Jill Wegrzyn, whose team is sampling the DNA of lingering trees. Armed with this DNA knowledge, scientists can attempt to create strains of these tree species that are resistant to the threats that are devasting current populations. We also visited a farm in Benson, Vermont, where the Nature Conservancy’s Gus Goodwin manages a test plot of American elm saplings that have been developed using disease-resistant DNA strains.
More Photos and Video about Trees in Peril
You can see more photos from this shoot in this gallery: https://archive.ecophotography.com/gallery/Trees-in-Peril-A-Nature-Conservancy-Project/G0000S3h0hMKDYJU
You can see the six-minute video we edited from this shoot on the Reel Quest Films website here: https://reelquestfilms.com/project/trees-in-peril-the-nature-conservancy/
And here’s the link to the story on TNC’s website: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/tackle-climate-change/climate-change-stories/trees-in-peril/
Any questions about this shoot? Let me know