John Thomas Brown

John Thomas Brown

What an interesting and revealing story about a dying tree that practically the whole Guam Legislature is using as a cause célèbre to shut down construction of the Marine Corps training facility.

The U.S. Department of Defense, however, has been monitoring and protecting it as best it can on a site it volunteered in the 1990s. And it appears it has been well known all that time. Members of the Legislature showed no interest, until now.

It seems the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to obtain funding to try to preserve the Serianthes nelsonii, or fire tree, species on Guam by propagating seedlings. About 80% were lost to fungus, insects, deer and pigs, not Marines. But that heroic effort still managed to create 18 viable seedlings. I call that success.

Or, it would be if the government of Guam would set aside some of its own land as a conservation area that protects the tree species. But we are told GovGuam never has bothered to do so, even though the species had survived on multiple sites in southern parts of the island. Like everything else GovGuam manages, caring for the tree could be challenging as the "trees need long-term maintenance." 

Moreover, the tree is not as rare as portrayed. We are confidently told, "the same species ... is thriving on Rota."

The tale of the Wollemi Pine

This hysteria can be contrasted with the tale of the Wollemi Pine. This is a species that was only known to botanists by fossil records dating back upward of 200 million years ago. And one day in the mid-1990s, a botanist was adventuring into rarely traversed valleys not far north and west of Sydney and saw a small stand of trees like he never knew.

When samples were examined, it was identified as the same species long lost to the fossil record, back to the days of dinosaurs. The local state government immediately set about to fund, staff and plan a local state government reclamation project, consisting mainly of two efforts: First cordon off the area from all public access, then propagate seedlings and test them in widely dispersed settings. It is still an ongoing project, but has achieved astounding success by making seedlings available through government and commercial garden centers all over the world. Google it.

There has been far too much hyperbole about this rare Guam tree. One would have good reason to think this is not about the tree. Perhaps it is something else?

John Thomas Brown is a resident of Tumon.

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