Assisted Tree Migration

Connie Barlow is a leading advocate for the “assisted migration” of native trees poleward in this time of rapid climate change. Beginning in 2004 in a paper cowritten with Pleistocene ecologist Paul S. Martin titled, “Bring Torreya taxifolia North — Now,” Barlow’s advocacy subsequently expanded to include even common native trees of North America.

The following video introduces a learning and action series for helping trees adapt to climate change — species by species, decade by decade. This is not a replacement for stopping the burning of fossil fuels, logging, and other carbon emissions sources, but it is necessary addition.

In her series, Barlow invites citizen naturalists are invited to research a favorite native tree species and begin to work with others to keep up with the northward movement of forest zones by planting and monitoring small numbers of wild seeds of common species onto private forested lands well north of where those seeds were collected.

This “assisted migration” in a time of unprecedented climate shift will be increasingly necessary in the decades ahead. Foresters can create the maps to show us where species will need to move to. But we citizen naturalists will play a complementary role in ensuring that the full diversity of genotypes keeps pace with a warming and drying continent.

Importantly, human action will mimic what birds, rodents, and other native seed dispersers have been able to accomplish on their own in previous periods of Earth history, when warming occurred at a slower, more natural pace.

Note: Three tree paintings by Illinois artist Mary Southard are included, as are several still shots from the 20th-century classic animated short film, “The Man Who Planted Trees.”

The series host, Connie Barlow, is the founder of the citizen activist group Torreya Guardians. She is the author of “The Ghosts of Evolution.”


  • 00:01 Climate adaptation as well as mitigation
  • 02:30 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act in 2014
  • 03:23 Reservation, Restoration, Resilience, and Reconciliation Ecology
  • 03:58 The Great March for Climate Action in 2014
  • 06:12 Climate, Trees, and Legacy
  • 08:27 Exploring the questions
  • 09:06 QUESTION 1: How will trees move north as climate shifts?
  • 14:23 Founding of Torreya Guardians and first action of assisted migration
  • 19:22 Even common tree species will need help moving north
  • 21:48 Book by Hazel Delcourt: Forests in Peril
  • 25:20 Connie remembers her mother’s stories of the Depression
  • 27:08 “Leaf a Legacy”
  • 30:43 QUESTION 1 (in detail): Assist the animals who disperse tree seeds?
  • 33:09 QUESTION 2: Will forest fires in arid west defeat assisted migration?
  • 37:06 QUESTION 3: How will trees move into and through wilderness areas?
  • 39:44 Homework: What do trees mean to you? (Reflect on your life stages.)

Featured image by Max Wilbert.

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