Today's tree planting postponed

YOUNG TREES: The Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program has propagated and grown seedlings to help save the Serianthes nelsonii from extinction on Guam, as shown in this undated photo from the University of Guam plant nursery. Photo courtesy of the Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program

It turns out the federal government, the Department of Defense, the Guam Department of Agriculture and the University of Guam have played key roles in trying to help one of the rarest of Guam trees species, the Serianthes nelsonii, survive.

Their collective efforts date as far back as 1998, based on records at UOG.

Part of what they did was collect the seedlings from what is believed to be the last mature tree of this species on Guam, which happens to be located within the fence on Andersen Air Force Base.

At UOG, a protected nursery nurtured the seedlings until they grew enough to be transplanted at the federally protected Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian, adjacent to Andersen.

UOG's Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program, which received Department of Defense and federal funding, has been involved in these efforts to keep this rare tree, also called the fire tree, or hayun lagu, from going extinct on Guam.

Of the dozens that were planted at Ritidian, about 18 have been estimated to have survived today. Nettings were placed around the young trees in an effort to keep them from being attacked. Bugs, pigs, deer and storms have threatened the survival of this tree species, which is native to Guam and Rota. On the neighboring island of Rota, more than 100 of this tree species remain standing.

While these joint efforts to save this tree species on Guam have gone without much fanfare for years, there has been a lot of talk lately as senators and the governor brought up the surviving mature fire tree at Andersen as a talking point to support the Legislature's call for a pause on construction related to the Live-Fire Training Range Complex at Andersen's Northwest Field.

The implication was the military was putting this rare mature tree in danger – hence the call for a pause on the firing-range project, which is a key piece of the plans to relocate almost 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to their future Guam base. The military did agree to pause construction in and around the tree, and in areas where historical artifacts have been located.

Still, some senators sought a six-month pause on the firing range construction, in part to allow a DNA study to see if the tree can, in the governor's words, "reproduce."

The tree has been the source of the seedlings that have now led to the 18 young Serianthes nelsonii trees on Guam.

James McConnell, a professor of ornamental horticulture at the UOG College of Natural and Applied Sciences, on Monday said, when sought by The Guam Daily Post to shed light on the issue, that the tree that has been the focus of much attention these last few weeks has been mature since the 1960s or 1970s, and has been protected through a variety of efforts, primarily by the Department of Defense.

"One of the problems is that GovGuam has never established protected areas. And even though their forestry department has identified key areas (on) the island, it's never been officially deeded," McConnell said.

This tree episode offers a lesson for GovGuam's elected officials to do their homework more thoroughly and look internally before calling out to criticize others.

The surviving seedlings and young trees of this rare tree species have been transplanted only for the most part at the federally protected wildlife refuge at Ritidian because the local government doesn't have a similarly protected plant habitat that would help ensure the protection of this rare tree from various types of development.

Officially designating locally protected land for the fire tree would be the job of the senators and the governor.

They should do this without delay, and while they're at it plant seedlings of this tree species themselves or get the community to be a part of this tree-planting.

This will show that the officials we elected really do care.

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