Madrone Recovery

We think about recovery of madrone ecosystems through the lens of eco-cultural restoration. We can often dwell on how much we have lost and lose hope, but intentional protection, recovery and restoration efforts can protect biodiversity and improve our healthspans while also encouraging participation and shared power with diverse racial, cultural and economic groups and supporting resiliency to climate change. Below is a framework from the principles and standards for ecological restoration to help orient ourselves toward eco-cultural restoration of madrone ecosystems.

Engage stakeholders to build social cohesion, listen and center voices that historically have been left out

Draw on many types of knowledge from ancestral wisdom, local expertise and Western science

Informed by native ecosystems while considering the dynamics of a warming world and rapid environmental change

Assist ecosystem recovery processes, not forcing non-nature based solutions on the landscape

Form clear goals and objectives around Conservation, Education and Connection and a mutually-shared vision for the future

Seek the highest level of recovery possible appropriate for the circumstances

Gain cumulative value to scale up actions over multiple ecoregions and ultimately the entire species range

Encourage a continuum of restoration activies that extends to reducing impacts, reparations and full recovery

Climate Change

The period between 1975-1994 had several warm phases for both Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) – Northern Pacific and Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) – Tropical Pacific. This global climate trend corresponded with hot, dry conditions in the Pacific northwest. During this time there were many reports of madrone decline and canker/dieback symptoms. Then there were periods during 1995-2016 where both climate indices were in a cool phase and we had cool, wet spring weather, corresponding with years having severe leaf blight like 2011. The climate appears to be entering another warm phase starting in 2014, but it is unclear how this will affect madrone populations and their health.

Sometimes ecological restoration is built upon assumptions of returning an ecosystem to an earlier, more healthy state. The impacts of climate change are sometimes irreversible and challenge traditional notions of recovery.

With more warming, could the leading edge of the range expand North?

Urban Ecosystems

We welcome opportunity and ideas to integrate madrone into the landscape and promote environmental justice through action and research. Madrones are both beautiful and resilient to drought, which could make them a good fit for plantings on the streets or in private yards. Plus when neighbors plant trees together, we can build community cohesion and social captial.

The Arbutus ARME provided madrone saplings to organizations in the Puget Trough such as the Tacoma Tree Foundation. Some trees trees went to a project called the Hilltop Shade Tree Program. The historic neighborhood of Hilltop in Tacoma has lower tree canopy cover, disproportionate amounts of impervious surface (e.g pavement) and more intense urban heat.

Resprouts 1 year after fire. Photo credit: Debbie Ickes

Response to Fire

Until the early 20th century, fire was frequent in the western US, set purposefully by Native Americans to encourage the growth of favored plants, clear areas for hunting, reduce fuel buildup and more. Post European settlement, the beginning of fire suppression in the early 20th century resulted in fewer low intensity fires. Due to this fire suppression and the effects of climate change, catastrophic fires have become more common. For example, the fires on the west coast are setting records for acreage burnt.

Read more about the role of indigenous peoples in shaping the historical fire regime here or click here to read more about the effects of fire suppression and the climate crisis.

Madrone is a fire adapted species. It resprouts from the root burl or lignotuber after the aboveground stem and branches are burned in a fire. In areas with fire suppression, diseases such as canker and branch dieback slowly destroy the canopy of the tree. Disease behaves in the same way as fire by destroying the aboveground parts of the tree, only more slowly by starving the tree to death. It is not practical to have prescribed burns in urban areas, so possibly more of these disease issues occur on urban madrones vs ones in forested areas that experience periodic fire.

Common Garden Trials

Range wide common garden tests will quantify variation in severity of madrone health problems, identify resistant/resilient sources, and predict extent of madrone health problems in forests containing this species now, and in future climates.

Assisted Gene Flow

From the perspective of the tree, changing climate isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; climate has always sent signals to plant populations to respond by adapting in place or moving. to new locations. However, the fragmentation of the landscape creates barriers to migration and industrial emissions are pushing the rate of warming faster and faster. We may have genetic options available to us by going farther South to source seed from more distant seed provenances. This climate-adjusted provenancing strategy means seed sourcing “toward the direction of predicted change” to augment diversity with genotypes that are "pre-adapted" to warmer temperatures. Assisting gene flow is one tactic to adapt to climate change.