History of Torreya Guardians
• Endangered Species Action

• Climate Activism

• Citizen Science


Torreya Guardians is a self-organized group of naturalists, botanists, ecologists, and others with a deep concern for biodiversity protection, who have chosen to use the internet as a tool for discussing ideas, posting plans, and taking a variety of actions in behalf of our most endangered conifer tree: Torreya taxifolia.

There are no by-laws, officers, board, staff, overhead costs, dues, formal organizational structure, or physical location to this organization.

Torreya Guardians does not speak or take action as a group, but instead encourages subsets of those involved to post ideas and initiatives on this website and to help establish links with synergistic organizations and websites.


   LEFT: Seeds of Torreya taxifolia donated to Torreya Guardians by the Biltmore Gardens (Asheville NC) in fall 2005, for first distribution in service of "rewilding" T. tax in the spring of 2006.

RIGHT: Lee Barnes with a seedling "rewilded" to Waynesville, North Carolina, in 2008 from its "peak glacial refuge" in northern Florida. This was the first "assisted migration" of a plant in the USA endangered by climate change. Learn how our actions are legal.


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"One amateur group, the Torreya Guardians, are attempting to 'rewild' the endangered Florida torreya, a conifer tree. Native only to a 65-kilometer length of the Apalachicola River, it began to decline in the 1950s, probably because of fungal pathogens, and is thought to be 'left behind' in a habitat hole that has prevented its migration northward. A few dozen seedlings were planted on private land near Waynesville, N.C., last July, with more expected."

— David Appell 2009
"Can "Assisted Migration" Save Species from Global Warming?"
Scientific American

* * * * *

"A common prediction for how plants will respond to climate change is that it is humans who got them into this mess and so it is humans who will have to get them out of it. That's why the idea of assisted migration of species, although often illustrated with the proposal to shift polar bears to the Antarctic, crops up more frequently in conversations about how to preserve iconic trees. Indeed, in one of the only real-world examples of assisted migration so far, campaigners have planted the seeds of the critically endangered conifer Torreya taxifolia hundreds of miles north of its Florida home."

— editorial, 4 December 2017
"Grows well in sun and warmth — and shade and cold"

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• Access the full set of MEDIA CLIPS mentioning Torreya Guardians

Early History and Cumulative Actions

   VIDEO: Early history of Torreya Guardians (by Lee Barnes)

Lee Barnes is a founding Torreya Guardian, with the longest tenure of work with Torreya taxifolia. From 1981-85 his graduate research entailed advanced propagation techniques for three endangered plants in Torreya State Park of Florida — Torreya among them. Here Lee speaks of his research, his early role in securing Torreya seeds for distribution to volunteer planters, and his broader frame of biodiversity-centric life work. Lee confirms that North Carolina is excellent habitat for this Florida species — and that it is crucial to experiment with plantings much farther north as climate continues to change. Click for Lee Barnes' PhD thesis re Torreya.

 ;    LEFT: Click each for magazine articles on the earliest efforts by Torreya Guardians, all featuring Connie Barlow, Lee Barnes, and Jack Johnston.

• The 2008 Orion article sets the Torreya effort within the contentious early years of the "assisted migration" debate.

• The 2010 Audubon article includes onsite reporting and photography of our July 2008 planting of 31 potted seedlings into forested habitat ("rewilding") near Waynesville, NC.


   VIDEO: Site Visits to Florida's Endangered Torreya and Yew Trees

Connie Barlow presents 15 years of baseline photos and videos she recorded of Torreya taxifolia and Taxus floridana in their historically native range in Torreya State Park in northern Florida. Photos of spectacular California Torreya trees, recorded by Barlow in 2005, show the potential for Florida Torreya recovery efforts to strive for. Fred Bess shows (in 2014 video) 2 Asian conifers (Cephalotaxus and Cunninghamia) used in landscaping that are Torreya look-alikes. Paleoecological evidence that Florida's Torreya was "left behind" in its peak glacial refuge supports "assisted migration" actions. (Note: This is episode 17 in an ongoing VIDEO series of Torreya Guardians actions.)

of Florida Torreya in North Carolina

A tremendous amount can be learned about the growth habits and ecological interactions of Florida torreya by visiting the two mature groves of this species — both in the mountains of western North Carolina. The 90-year-old grove near Highlands NC and the 80-year-old grove at Biltmore Gardens near Asheville NC both not only reproduce but also have naturalized seedlings nearby.

Access both the Highlands and the Bilmore videos via our VIDEO webpage.

Photo left, Highlands, includes Torreya Guardian Jack Johnston.

Photo left, Biltmore, includes Torreya Guardian Michael Dowd.

Connie Barlow co-led and filmed both site visits (in 2015 and 2016, respectively).


In 2005, Connie Barlow visited Torreya californica growing in the wilds of Yosemite National Park (far left), Sequoia National Park (near left), northwest of Napa Valley, and north of Santa Cruz. Her photos, written observations, and SUMMARY VIDEOS can be accessed here: California Torreya webpage.

That experience of natural habitat and ecological capabilities of Florida Torreya's close cousin led Connie in 2015 to create a highly illustrated webpage that poses this question: "Could Florida Torreya take the place of Eastern Hemlock?. (Several people before Connie had posed this question, but nobody had yet written an advocacy piece.)

Torreya and Tsuga have similar growth habits and habitat preferences. Notably, both are shade-tolerant evergreens and compete well on steep ravine slopes. Hemlocks are ecologically valued in eastern deciduous forests for their ability to shade (and thus keep cool) streams in early spring, prior to deciduous canopy leaf flush. But the exotic adelgid insect is extirpating hemlocks from the eastern USA. Could our native Torreya species in the eastern USA help to re-establish that stream-side ecological function?

Summary of Seed Distributions & Seed Source Documentation

Our first action was to acquire and distribute 110 seeds donated by Biltmore Gardens (Asheville, North Carolina) in 2005, 200 seeds donated in 2007, and 300 seeds donated in 2009. Visible success began in summer 2008, when we planted 31 seedlings into semi-wild forest near Waynesville NC. (The potted seedlings were legally purchased at Woodlanders Nursery, Aiken SC, and transported by one of our volunteers in his truck to North Carolina.) All of these actions were in support of "species rescue." Since then, our choices in planting, hypotheses testing, and citizen science contributions entail at least six topical concerns:
  • Species rescue (beyond the geographically limited efforts under the U.S. Endangered Species Act)
  • Ascertaining preferred habitats (slope, aspect, soil, shade, microclimate, plant associates, etc.)
  • Developing best practices for propagation, nurturance, and rewilding
  • Ascertaining northern-most ranges in anticipation of ongoing climate change
  • Assessing Torreya's contributions to ecosystem services
  • Methods for recruiting volunteers, networking, data gathering, reporting results

    MAP of SEED PLANTERS: As of 2018, Torreya Guardians has donated seeds or seedlings to RECRUITED PLANTERS on private properties in 12 states. BOTANICAL GARDENS receiving seeds through Torreya Guardians include: Morton (IL), Secrest* and Dawes* (OH), Yew Dell (KY), Corneille Bryan* and Raulston (NC), Birmingham Botanical (AL). Note: * indicates videos of Torreya in these gardens can be accessed on our video page.

    STATE-BY-STATE photo-rich webpages of our most successful plantings:
         • North CarolinaTennesseeOhioGeorgiaFloridaMichiganNew Hampshire

    MAP of SEED PRODUCTION: Torreya Guardians has documented current, extirpated, and our own SEED PRODUCTION at the sites shown on the map. Details include:

    • FLORIDA: APALACHICOLA RIVER Peak Glacial Refuge no longer maintains seed production. Torreya Guardian Clint Bancroft in 2017 documented female buds on the lone mature tree surviving in MADISON FL, but recent removal of another mature tree on private land near the post office may eliminate pollen opportunities for seed production in the near future.

    • GEORGIA: Until recently, 3 mature Torreya trees probably had at least some seed production on two private properties in COLUMBUS GA. Two trees were removed, and as of 2018 only one lightning-damaged tree remains. Meanwhile ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN continues a seed production project at Smithgall Woods in northern Georgia, and the University of Georgia at an experiment station in Blairsville (also in northern Georgia).

    • SOUTH CAROLINA: For several decades Woodlanders Nursery in AIKEN SC was the only ongoing source of potted seedlings for sale to private individuals within the constraints of the Endangered Species Act. A female rooted branchlet from the champion tree in Norlina NC and male branchlets from the Henry Foundation, Gladwynne PA, were planted on a private estate in Aiken and were sourced for nursery seeds. We recently heard that the female was killed by a falling oak tree.

    • NORTH CAROLINA: Long-time Torreya Guardian in SPENCER NC, Jeff Morris, began producing a small number of seeds from rooted branchlets in 2011. A.J. Bullard in the 1990s began annually collecting (up to 5,000 seeds in a year) from the old female tree in CLINTON NC. The male has since been knocked down in a windstorm, but the female tree is still producing seeds. In 2013 Barlow collected 102 from the ground, plus 6 seedlings, and photo-documented many more remaining high on the tree. In 2014 Jeff Morris collected more than 500 seeds. In 2013, Barlow visited A.J. Bullard in MT. OLIVE NC; he allowed her to collect 41 seeds and to photo-document his trees. (His trees are progeny of late 1990s seed collecting from the several trees in Clinton NC.) BILTMORE GARDENS in ASHEVILLE NC had been producing seeds (up to 300 or so) from its grove of 1939 plantings, but the 2004 hurricane season so damaged several of the mature trees and destroyed its partial shade (pine) canopy that seed production has not yet recovered. Finally, in 2006 a Torreya Guardians site-visit in summer documented a few seeds in the canopy of a mature Torreya Grove at Harbison House in HIGHLANDS NC. A November 2017 site visit team (Bancroft and Johnston) were able to collect 42 seeds.

    • OHIO: In 2017 Torreya Guardian Fred Bess in CLEVELAND OH harvested the first production from his shoulder-high female (flanked by 2 male trees of the same age). The tree produced a total of 5 seeds.

    • OREGON: Frank Callahan in MEDFORD OR donated 3,900 seeds to Torreya Guardians from an autumn 2016 bumper crop of a pair of Torreya taxifolia (sourced from seed from the National Arboretum 30 years earlier).

  • Volunteer Torreya Guardians

       CONNIE BARLOW: The final 10 minutes of an hour-long VIDEO REPORT in 2015 summarizes 4 primary types of EXPERIMENTS our group is undertaking: (1) planting and nurturing full-sun "orchards" aimed at maximizing early growth and seed production; (2) exploring for northern range limits where Torreya can survive and/or thrive in today's climate; (3) discerning habitat preferences at various latitudes; and (4) searching for sites and modes of planting that require the least amount of post-planting intervention for success.

    Torreya Guardian volunteers with experimental experience:

    • ORCHARD PLANTING (full sun) - Jack Johnston (GA), Russ Regnery (NC); Lamar Marshall (NC)

    • ROOTING BRANCHLETS - Clint Bancroft (TN); Jack Johnston (GA); Jeff Morris (NC)

    • RAPID SEED PRODUCTION: Jeff Morris (NC); Fred Bess (OH)

    • NORTHERN RANGE LIMITS - Fred Bess (OH); Bob Miller (OH); Dawes Arboretum (OH); Daein Ballard (NH)

    • HABITAT PREFERENCES - Connie Barlow (itinerant); Lee Barnes (NC)

    • FREE PLANTING (least intervention) - Nelson Stover (NC); Chris Anderson (TN); Chris Larson (FL); Connie Barlow


    Harbison House, Highlands NC - Jack Johnston, Clint Bancroft, Lee Barnes, and Connie Barlow

    Biltmore Gardens, Asheville NC - Lee Barnes and Connie Barlow

    Clinton, NC - Connie Barlow and Jeff Morris

    Columbus, GA - Clint Bancroft, Jack Johnston, Connie Barlow

    Madison, FL - Clint Bancroft

    Complete List of INSTITUTIONS receiving seeds/seedlings via Torreya Guardians


  • Longleaf Botanical Garden (Anniston, AL)
  • Kaul Wildflower Garden of Birmingham Botanical Garden (Birmingham, AL)
  • Dr. Lawana Adcock-Downey, University of Alabama Huntsville (Huntsville, AL)


  • Morton Arboretum (Chicago, IL)


  • Yew Dell Gardens (Crestwood, KY)
  • Arboretum of the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky (Lexington, KY)


  • Polly Hill Arboretum (Martha's Vineyard, MA)


  • Carolinas chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation
  • Tessentee Bottomland Preserve of the Land Trust of the Little Tennessee River (Otto and Franklin, NC)
  • Highlands Biological Station and Highlands Botanical Garden (Highlands, NC)
  • Southern Highlands Reserve (Lake Toxaway, NC)
  • Corneille Bryan Native Plant Garden, Lake Junaluska, NC)
  • North Carolina Bartram Trail Society
  • Duke University Gardens
  • Meredith College (Raleigh NC)
  • J.C. Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)


  • U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station (Delaware OH)
  • Dawes Arboretum (Neward OH)
  • Secrest Arboretum, affiliated with Ohio State University (Wooster OH)


  • Chatooga Riverkeeper
  • Spartanburg Community College Arboretum


  • University of Tennessee Arboretum
  • Tennesseee Chapter of the Sierra Club (seeds went to 4 members)


  • Valley Conservation Council (Staunton, VA)

    Record of Advocacy and Communications

    1. FIRST DISCUSSIONS (2002-2004): Prior to the formation of Torreya Guardians and the launch of Torreya seed-sourcing and assisted migration, Connie Barlow networked e-discussions among professionals and several of the earliest volunteers. Access the roster of persons involved in the earliest discussions, which is followed by an annotated ARCHIVE of early correspondence and related documents.

    2. PUBLICATION OF PRO AND CON VIEWS (2004): When it became obvious that the discussants could not agree on a path of advocacy and action, Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin co-wrote their own pro-action proposal and submitted it to the editor of Wild Earth journal (Barlow and Martin had each published in that journal previously). The editor then solicited a contrary perspective from Mark Schwartz, and both were published as poles in the "Forum" section of the WINTER 2004/05 issue of the journal. In that same issue, Barlow also published a review of the 2002 book (by paleoecologist Hazel Delcourt; listed below) that solidified her sense of Florida Torreya as a glacial relict and thus prompted her to launch these discussions and eventually the founding of Torreya Guardians.

    "Bring Torreya taxifolia North — Now", by Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin

    "Conservationists Should Not Move Torreya taxifolia", by Mark Schwartz

    "Forum" (both articles in a single pdf)

    "Forests in Peril", review by Connie Barlow of 2002 book by Hazel Delcourt, Forests in Peril: Tracking Deciduous Trees from Ice-Age Refuges into the Greenhouse World"

    3. ASSISTED MIGRATION SCHOLARLY LINKS (2007 webpage): In order to keep track of the sudden rush of papers (along with news reports) on the "assisted migration" controversy, Connie Barlow initiated a webpage of Assisted Migration Scholarly Links. Visitors to that page today will find a topical list of links at the outset, and the format allows for internal word searches to assist with web-based scholarly research.


       Deep Time Lags: Lessons from Pleistocene Ecology

    by Connie Barlow, 2009

    Chapter 10 in Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis.

    MIT Press

    5. COMMENTS ON ESA 2010 RECOVERY PLAN UPDATE (2010): USF&WS staff person Vivian Negron-Ortiz invited Torreya Guardians to use a conference call phone line to express our views during a meeting of the official Advisory Board for Florida Torreya, in which Negron-Ortiz would solicit responses to questions she devised in advance. CONNIE BARLOW was joined in that phone call by one of our Torreya planters in North Carolina: RUSSELL REGNERY. Barlow followed up with written comments, and by recruiting several professionals (Sara Reichard and Josh Donlan) to file comments. A webpage provides links to all written comments by or in behalf of Torreya Guardians, and also to the original (1986) and updated (2010) ESA recovery plans.

    The resulting recovery plan 2010 update mentions Torreya Guardians in three places:

    p. 18 "Foster a working partnership between the Torreya Guardians, the Service, and other interested parties to help direct their managed relocation efforts."

    p. 5 [listed within "Recovery Action 1: Protect existing habitat"] The Torreya guardians, created in 2004, translocated seedlings of T. taxifolia outside of the species native habitat (two sites in North Carolina mountains). One of the identified goals of their intentional assisted migration was to save T. taxifolia from extinction (http://www.torreyaguardians.org/save.html).

    p. 9 [listed within "Recovery Action 5: Establish experimental collections of torreya outside its native habitat"] "In 1939 nearly a dozen specimens of T. taxifolia were planted at the Biltmore Gardens; 31 seedlings were planted in 2008 at two locations near Waynesville; and 10 seedlings were planted at Bt. Highlands and Franklin (http://www.torreyaguardians.org/north-carolina.html)."

    6. PALEOECOLOGY AND THE ASSISTED MIGRATION DEBATE (2010 webpage): Because Connie Barlow was disappointed in the 2010 Recovery Plan update's failure to initiate official experiments in northward assisted migration, and because there appeared to be a retrenchment in consideration of T. taxfolia as a glacial relict after this species was declared an endangered relict in 1984, Barlow created (and periodically updates) a webpage setting forth the elements of a paleoecological argument for moving Florida Torreya poleward: "Paleoecology and the Assisted Migration Debate: Why a Deep-Time Perspective Is Vital".

    7. FORESTRY CHRONICLE REPORTS SCIENCE-BASED DECISION MAKING BY TORREYA GUARDIANS: "Review of science-based assessments of species vulnerability: Contributions to decision-making for assisted migration", by Tannis Beardmore and Richard Winder, December 2011, Forestry Chronicle (Canadian) provides the most detailed academic review to date of the impetus for citizen volunteers in moving Florida Torreya north. The Torreya section includes this table and the text below it.

    Ecological standards for assisted migration developed for Torreya taxifolia.
        The Torreya Guardians are a volunteer conservation group consisting of botanists, naturalists, and citizens with an interest in conserving Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia Arn.). This group has four primary goals: (1) to save this species from extinction; (2) to test the utility of assisted migration for this and other threatened plant species; (3) to provide a model for possible activities to help mitigate the impacts of climate change; and (4) to foster collaborations with the public and appropriate professions (Torreya Guardians 2004). Florida Torreya is a small tree in the yew family (Taxaceae) with a very limited range in the southeastern United States; it is native to Georgia and Florida. Florida Torreya is federally listed as critically endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1986). Within its native range, this species has been decimated by a fungal disease (Godfrey and Kurz 1962) reported to be a novel species of Fusarium (Smith et al. 2011), which remains the largest threat to this species' survival.
         The Torreya Guardians developed "Ecological Standards" as a tool for assessing vulnerability, identifying whether this species was at risk, and determining if assisted migration was an appropriate mitigation strategy (Tables 1 and 2). To assess vulnerability, two factors are used: "neediness" and "irreversible problems". The assessment identifies whether the species is endangered, and whether ecological or climate change is a major threat. Four factors then consider whether assisted migration is appropriate (Table 2), including considerations pertaining to historical information, evaluation of whether assisted migration will decrease the risk of extirpation or introduce new threats to the recipient areas, and determination of whether unassisted migration is still feasible.
         The Torreya Guardians identified Florida Torreya as being highly vulnerable and incorporated this information into their management plans, where they have developed and implemented assisted migration as a conservation strategy using their own resources (Torreya Guardians 2004). They have established plantings of trees across a 600-km range, predominantly in the southern Appalachians, using readily available seed stock (Camacho 2010). This material is being planted on private lands, with full support of the landowners. Thus, there is no involvement of government oversight, nor has it been legally mandated.
         There have been concerns that limited biological information has been used in this assessment and that assisted migration may result in unintended negative ecological consequences (McMahan 1989). These concerns include the introduction of non-native species and their potential to become invasive. However, no negative ecological consequences have been identified. This group has created an extensive online information resource for their activities (Torreya Guardians 2011), which was most likely used to assist in this decision-making process. This work has raised important questions concerning the level of information needed to determine the level of a species' vulnerability to climate change. Furthermore, how does one address the absence of information in the presence of uncertainty? Please see the papers by Aubin et al., Ste-Marie et al. and Winder et al. in this issue that further discuss these issues.
        This example of assisted migration has raised the issue of authorization and oversight as the official federal recovery plan does not identify assisted migration as a conservation strategy for Florida Torreya. The momentum that this group has created resulted in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considering whether assisted migration is an appropriate strategy for this species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2010). It is yet to be seen if official plans will include a more thorough assessment of the ecological impacts of assisted migration, or more extensive monitoring programs. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting example of how a grassroots organization can propel assisted migration into the forefront, causing a governmental agency to consider the use of this strategy.

    8. PAPER CONFIRMS TORREYA GUARDIANS ACTIONS ARE LEGAL (2013): Although Connie Barlow received e-confirmation 22 July 2004 from then-ESA-staffer Stan Simpkins (see pp. 22-23 of this pdf), publication of a paper by Patrick D. Shirey et al. gave her solid grounding to step out more in publicly communicating the seed distribution and planting efforts of Torreya Guardians. Apparently, the Endangered Species Act was intentionally written with a loophole for plants (but not for animals). See "Commercial Trade of Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Plants in the United States", by Patrick D. Shirey et al., 2013, Conservation Letters.

       Connie Barlow learns that, while conservation biology journals have been featuring debate and discussion, professional foresters have been moving ahead with delineating the need for and experimenting with assisted migration of trees. Crucially, foresters make a 3-fold distinction in the types of assisted migration, with the "assisted species migration" (a.k.a. "species rescue") being the most radical. The actions taken by Torreya Guardians made Torreya taxifolia the type-case example of the latter. Connie begins to network with forestry research professionals.

    ABOVE: "Preparing for Climate Change: Forestry and Assisted Migration", by Mary Williams and Kasten Dumroese, 2013, Journal of Forestry.

    10. VIDEO DOCUMENTATION INITIATED (2013): Immediately following publication of the Shirey et al. paper (above), Connie Barlow created and posted on youtube her first Torreya video, this one serving as an introduction to the paleoecological arguments for moving Florida Torreya north, a summary of actions to date, along with highlighting key sections of the Shirey et al. paper confirming the legality of our efforts. As of the end of 2017, Barlow has posted 28 videos, most of which center on field documentation — as video footage enables armchair viewers to formulate their own interpretations and to do so for many years ahead. All videos are listed, annotated, and linked from our Torreya VIDEOS webpage.

    11. TORREYA GUARDIANS FEATURED IN PRESS; LEE BARNES QUOTED (2014): E&E News article, "Will it be extinction or 'translocation' as impacts of climate change increase?", features the controversy over Torreya taxifolia and assisted migration, with one of the founding Torreya Guardians, Lee Barnes, quoted in disagreement with UC Davis professor Mark Schwartz.

    VIDEO: "Free-Planting Florida Torreya Seeds into Wild Forest: 2015 report of best practices

       Autumn 2013 our access to seeds jumped from the usual several hundred to several thousand. Having an abundance of seeds for the first time offered us a chance to initiate our first "free-planting" experiments — a crucial step toward finding the right habitats and the best practices for "rewilding" this species into regrowth forests. A year and a half later Connie Barlow returned to her experimental site in Waynesville NC. Documenting wild germination was not her primary concern. Rather, her aim was to test whether thatched branches or flat rocks placed over planted seeds would be adequate protection against rodent seed predators.

    Conclusion: Mixed free-planting results; more experimentation needed.

    13. INCOMPATIBILITY CONTINUES BETWEEN TORREYA GUARDIANS AND ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT OFFICIALS (2014): Written correspondence initiated by Connie Barlow confirms that incompatible views are still present between Torreya Guardians and both the USF&WS staff person in charge of Torreya taxifolia (Vivian Negron-Ortiz) and a key scientist working within the recovery plan in the 1990s (Mark Schwartz). Excerpt of Mark Schwartz 2 September 2014 email response to Barlow:"...I have spoken to a number of USFWS about assisted migration and the hesitancy on the part of the agency is, as I see it, not about climate politics or climate deniers. In fact experimental populations have been established outside historic ranges, albeit not necessarily based on a climate futures model. However, the TG rewilding is not based on that either, as best I can tell. My sense is that it is about limited capacity and drivers of extinction risk. The application of the ESA has been focused on extinction prevention, and not on restoring ecological relevant populations. Hence, Torreya would not be a priority as it is not high on the list of species likely to go extinct soon."

    14. BARLOW INVITED TO SPEAK ON ASSISTED MIGRATION AT MICHIGAN TECH SCHOOL OF FORESTRY (2015): VIDEO: Foresters Outpace Conservation Biologists in Climate Adaptation

       The "assisted migration" ongoing project of Torreya Guardians is regularly cited in academic literature on climate adaptation controversies in biodversity and ecosystems protection. Here, Connie Barlow presents the first (highly illustrated) talk to professionals. Speaking to faculty and students at Michigan Technological University's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Barlow presents the history of the "assisted migration" controversy — highlighting the reasons why foresters have already taken actions where conservation biologists fear to tread. (filmed Sept 11, 2015)

    Note: This video is episode 08 in an ongoing video series by Barlow on forestry and climate adaptation. See an annotated list of titles and links to all such videos here: "CLIMATE, TREES, and LEGACY".

    15. TENNESSEE CHAPTER OF SIERRA CLUB POSTS TORREYA GUARDIANS ARTICLE IN NEWSLETTER (2015) - The Sept-Oct 2015 newsletter of the Tennes-Sierran newsletter contains an article soliciting volunteers in Tennessee to begin planting Torreya taxifolia seeds in their state. Click the image left and then scroll down the online pdf to page 8 in order to read the full article.

       Nov 2017 update: Thanks to the Sierra Club newsletter, a new volunteer on the Cumberland Plateau free-planted 400 seeds in Nov 2015.

    Two years later, Connie Barlow visited his in-forest plantings, took photos and video, and posted this ongoing report: Torreya Rewilded to Cumberland Plateau, TN.

    16. ONGOING PROJECT REPORTS: Webmaster Connie Barlow attempts to keep the various webpages updated. Substantial events, actions, and ideas are posted chronologically on our PROJECT REPORTS webpage. Activities are also posted by state, with links to individual webpages created for each Torreya volunteer who reports results (especially with photos). All state webpages are accessible via the STATE-BY-STATE LIST on our homepage. The LEARNINGS webpage is also chronological by year. One of the most complex (and thus internally indexed by topic) webpage is PROPAGATE, because seeds are precious and so we try to offer new planters our ever-advancing suggestions for best practices.

    Roster of Original Discussants and Advisors
    2002 - 2008

  • Volunteer Website Master: Connie Barlow

  • Volunteer Coordinator of Rewilding Project & Seed Distribution: Lee Barnes, Waynesville NC. Note: Lee Barnes studied Florida Torreya for his PhD dissertation at the University of Florida (1985), available online: "Clonal Propagation of Endangered Plants: Rhododendron chapmanii, Taxus floridana, and Torreya taxifolia".

  • Advisor from the Biltmore Gardens, Asheville NC: Bill Alexander, Forest Historian

  • Advisor from the Sudden Oak Life Project in California: Lee Klinger

  • Advisor from the Torreya Propagation Program at the Smith College Arboretum: Rob Nicholson

  • Advisor from the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill: Peter White

  • Advisor from Lam Asian Garden, University of British Columbia: Peter Wharton

  • Advisor from New York Botanical Garden: Robbin Moran

  • Advisor from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Dean Gallagher

  • Advisor from Northwest Florida Environmental Conservancy: Karl Studenroth

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in NE Georgia, USA: Jack Johnston

  • Torreya taxifolia stewards in Waynesville NC: Linda McFarland and Janet Manning (for Corneille Bryan Native Garden)

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in western North Carolina: Russell Regnery

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in western North Carolina: Sara Evans

  • Torreya taxifolia (and Taxus floridana and Gaylussacia brachycera) steward in Hayward, Wisconsin: Michael Heim

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) at The Dawes Arboretum, Newark OH: Rich Larson

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) at Arboretum de Villardebelle in southern France: Didier Maerki

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in mid-Ohio: Rich Poruban

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in Sapphire NC: Patrick Horan

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in New York State: Peter Porcelli

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in Devon, England: Euan Roxburgh

  • Other academic advisors: Mark Schwartz (University of California, Davis); Sharon Hermann (Auburn University), Paul S. Martin (University of Arizona, emeritus)

  • Liaison from The Nature Conservancy: Leigh Brooks

  • Liaison with The Wildlands Project: Josh Brown

  • Contact at the USF&WS (Panama City FL office): Vivian Negron-Ortiz

  • PARTICIPATING PROPAGATORS of T. taxifolia in or near western NC: Jack Johnston, Russell Regnery, Sara Evans, Corneille Bryan Native Garden

  • PARTICIPATING SCHOOLGROUNDS PROPAGATION: Bruce Rinker, chair of the science dept at North Cross School, a private school in Roanoke Valley, Virginia, began preparations for his students and school to participate in T. taxifolia assisted migration experiments and study in autumn 2009.

  • EARLY COMMUNICATING PARTICIPANTS in 2003 and 2004 email communications prior to the formation of Torreya Guardians: Connie Barlow, Paul S. Martin, Hazel Delcourt, David Jarzen, Lee Barnes, Bill Alexander, Peter White, Rob Nicholson, Peter Wharton, Mark Schwartz, Leigh Brooks, Anathea Brooks, Brian Keel, Paul Spitzer, Josh Brown, Sharon Hermann, John Johnson

    Editor's Note: An inability to reach consensus (among the above list of communicators) on the next step for Torreya taxifolia action, led Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin to draft an advocacy piece for the final issue of Wild Earth magazine, and for Mark Schwartz to submit a rebuttal. Access both papers of the Winter 2004/2005 issue Wild Earth Forum: "Assisted Migration for an Endangered Tree". At the same time, Barlow and Martin published a set of proposed Standards for Assisted Migration on this website.

    The next major step was the July 2008 "Rewilding" action at Waynesville and Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. Access photo-essays of 2008 Torreya action and Chronology of Events leading up to the 2008 action.

    An archived history of the early debate over terminology is also available: "Assisted Migration or Assisted Colonization: What's in a Name?".

    Archived Documents of Early Roots of Torreya Guardians

    Note by Connie Barlow: January 2018 I sorted through my old folder of ancient digital correspondence during the early years of Torreya Guardians and have converted these into pdf segments for historical archiving on this website. The documents are as follows:

    Archive OVERVIEW of email correspondence prior to June 2010 (18 pages)

    Archive of email correspondence prior to June 2010 (228 pages)

    Archive of email correspondence November 2004 - January 2005 (12 pages)

    Lee Barnes solicits volunteers for 2005 Biltmore seeds (1 page)

    Review by Connie Barlow of Forests in Peril book by Hazel Delcourt, in Winter 2004 Wild Earth magazine

    Reviews of Forests in Peril posted on Amazon by Torreya Guardians Connie Barlow and Russ Regnery

    In early 2004, Connie Barlow assembled an expert group to discuss potential assisted migration of Torreya taxifolia, with the hopes that a joint advocacy paper could result and be published. Ultimately, Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin determined that they alone would write such a paper, as none of the others were willing to be as forceful in advocacy as they wanted to be. The documents below archive the e-correspondence in that discussion (chronologically for the most part), and then in the drafting of the pro-assisted migration paper.
    Names and bios of 24 Torreya discussion participants, compiled by Connie Barlow 24 April 2004

    Listserve created by Lee Barnes for discussion, 37 pages of early 2004 e-correspondence, although many participants chose to communicate by email directly to Barlow, rather than use the listserve.

    "Is the Current Range of Torreya taxifolia Its True Native Range?, draft manuscript by Hazel Delcourt, 19 February 2004 (18 pages)

    Editor's note: Hazel Delcourt wrote this draft academic paper, based on group conversations to date. She listed Connie Barlow, Paul S. Martin, Lee Barnes, and Richard Alexander as proposed co-authors, although (as Barlow recollects in 2018) none of us had directly contributed any writing to Hazel's original draft. Nothing more was done with this draft, as a more popular venue, Wild Earth magazine was since decided upon, and thus a foreshortened presentation of background was called for, shifting attention to pro and con conservation arguments re assisted migration of T. taxifolia.
    "Ten Questions" to stimulate Torreya discussion re advocacy, by Connie Barlow, March 2004 (7 pages)

    Responses to Ten Questions, pt 1, March 2004 (7 pages)

    Communicators include: Peter White (UNC), Sharon Hermann (Tall Timbers), Ron Determann (ABG), Paul Martin (UAZ), Leigh Brooks (TNC), Connie Barlow; (7 pages)
    Responses to Ten Questions, pt 2, April - July 2004 (38 pages)
    Communicators include: Connie Barlow, Greg Seamon (TNC), Peter Wharton (Lam Asian Garden, Vancouver), John Johnson (grad student), Robbin Moran (NYBG), Dave Foreman (Rewilding Institute), Paul Martin (U AZ), Mark Schwartz (UC Davis), Peter White (UNC), Josh Brown (Wild Earth), Brian Keel (grad student); (38 pages)
    Communications re Pro and Anti draft essays, April - Dec 2004 (45 pages)
    Communicators include: Mark Schwartz (his draft anti essay); Connie Barlow (response to Schwartz draft essay & her proposal for "standards"); Paul Martin (response to Schwartz draft); Peter White (concurs with Schwartz draft, responds to Barlow "standards"); Anathea Brooks (NASA conservation ecologist, detailed concerns re both anti- and pro- drafts); Stan Simpkins (USF&WS, confirms loophole in ESA for seeds on and to private lands outside FL); David Jarzen (UFL); Brian Keel (responds to 10 Questions); Al Traversej (retired colleague of Paul Martin) (38 pages)
    "Draft of Pro Assisted Migration", by Connie Barlow, 6 Aug 2004 (12 pages)

    "Draft of Pro Strandards", by Connie Barlow, 6 Aug 2004 (2 pages)

    "Paul Martin's edits on the draft Pro paper", by Paul Martin, 2004 (14 pages)

    "Second Draft of Pro Assisted Migration", by Connie Barlow & Paul Martin, 21 Aug 2004 (12 pages)

    "Third Draft of Pro Assisted Migration", by Connie Barlow & Paul Martin, 8 September 2004 (9 pages)

    FINAL ARTICLES re Torreya assisted migration:

    FOR assisted migration, by Connie Barlow & Paul Martin

    ANTI assisted migration, by Mark Schwartz

    FORUM, both articles for wide screen layout

    STANDARDS for Assisted Migration, by Connie Barlow & Paul Martin

    Torreya Guardians in the Media

    "A common prediction for how plants will respond to climate change is that it is humans who got them into this mess and so it is humans who will have to get them out of it. That's why the idea of assisted migration of species, although often illustrated with the proposal to shift polar bears to the Antarctic, crops up more frequently in conversations about how to preserve iconic trees. Indeed, in one of the only real-world examples of assisted migration so far, campaigners have planted the seeds of the critically endangered conifer Torreya taxifolia hundreds of miles north of its Florida home."

    — editorial, 4 December 2017
    "Grows well in sun and warmth — and shade and cold"

    * * * * *

    "It took action by a non-government organisation to re-awaken a debate on translocation for climate change mitigation. In the mid 2000s, the Torreya Guardians, a special interest group, formed to save the Florida torreya tree from extinction, and they embarked on a project to deliberately expand the range of the torreya more than 500 km northwards. The endangered conifer persisted in a single population of fewer than 1000 trees within a Pleistocene refuge in Florida. Climate change was predicted to reduce, or even eliminate, their habitat in this native range. The acquisition of torreya seeds and their planting in new areas was done legally, making this early and successful instance of assisted colonisation relatively straight-forward (McLachlan et al., 2007), at least from the Torreya Guardians' point of view."

    — Philip J. Seddon et al., 2015
    Chapter 9 "Past, current, and future use of assisted colonisation"
    in Advances in Reintroduction Biology of Australian and New Zealand Fauna (Doug Armstrong, ed.)

    * * * * *

    "The well-known case of the Torreya Guardians that have translocated seedlings of Torreya taxifolia to more northerly latitudes in North America represents an independent citizen action of very involved and proactive people."

    — Roxane Sansilvestre et al., 2015
    Policy tools for implementing assisted migration for species and ecosystem management
    Environmental Science & Policy

    * * * * *

    "The poster child for assisted migration is the critically endangered Torreya taxifolia, sometimes known as stinking cedar. Fewer than a thousand torreya hang on along the ravines and bluffs above the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle.... When the Torreya Guardians first began publicizing this approach and planting saplings out in the woods of North Carolina, there was significant skepticism in the scientific community, and concerns about creating a new invasive species or altering the balance of established communities were frequently raised. But the planting experiments seem to be going well, and the Torreya Guardians are slowly learning how best to propagate the species."

    — Kevan Williams, 2014
    "Have Tree, Will Travel
    Landscape Architecture Magazine

    * * * * *

    "In 2008, Connie Barlow, a biologist and conservationist, helped move an endangered conifer tree in Florida north by planting seedlings in cooler regions. Now she is working in the West. 'I just assisted in the migration of the alligator juniper in New Mexico by planting seeds in Colorado,' she said. 'We have to. Climate change is happening so fast and trees are the least capable of moving.'"

    — Jim Robbins, 2014
    "Building an Ark for the Anthropocene
    New York Times

    * * * * *

    "Assisted migration has gained sufficient acceptance to be implemented in a few situations in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., a coalition of botanists and environmentalists known as the “Torreya Guardians” transported members of a Florida species of conifer tree with a shrinking range in Florida’s panhandle to North Carolina."

    — Jessica Kabaz-Gomez, 2012
    "Rules for Playing God: The Need for Assisted Migration & New Regulation"
    Animal Law

    * * * * *

    "In 2005, as part of a 'no-budget, self-organizing, completely volunteer and paperwork-free recovery plan' for the Florida torreya, Barlow recruited Lee Barnes to launch a grassroots seed-distribution project. Taking seeds or plants from the wild and moving them across state lines without a permit would have been illegal, so the Torreya Guardians began by distributing seeds donated by a public garden in North Carolina, where a grove of Florida torreyas planted 70 years ago has been thriving and reproducing.... Undaunted, Barlow, armed with a website and an email list, has managed to advance a new conservation paradigm. The website she launched, www.torreyaguardians.org, has provided a forum for both citizens and scientists interested in debating the efficacy and ethics of assisted migration for critically imperiled species like the Florida torreya. In fact, many of the guidelines now being discussed in various scientific forums originated on this website."

    — Janet Marinelli, 2010
    "Guardian Angels"
    Audubon Magazine

    * * * * *

    "As questions swirl about how best to proceed, the plight of one species has driven people to take matters into their own hands. Blighted by disease, the Florida Torreya pine has lost more than 98% of its population since the 1950s. Over the past decade, the Torreya Guardians have been distributing seeds well beyond the tree's historic range. The private group cites climate change as one rationale for its 'assisted migration'."

    — Richard Stone, 2010
    "Home, Home Outside the Range?"

    * * * * *

    "One amateur group, the Torreya Guardians, are attempting to 'rewild' the endangered Florida torreya, a conifer tree. Native only to a 65-kilometer length of the Apalachicola River, it began to decline in the 1950s, probably because of fungal pathogens, and is thought to be 'left behind' in a habitat hole that has prevented its migration northward. A few dozen seedlings were planted on private land near Waynesville, N.C., last July, with more expected."

    — David Appell 2009
    "Can "Assisted Migration" Save Species from Global Warming?"
    Scientific American

    * * * * *

    "In a 2004 forum in the now-defunct journal Wild Earth, Barlow and Martin made what might be the first public case for assisted migration. Moving even federally endangered plants like the Florida torreya to more favorable climates, they wrote, was 'easy, legal, and cheap,' and Torreya taxifolia, prevented by highways, topography, and its own biology from moving quickly on its own, needed immediate help. While horticulturists at the Atlanta Botanical Garden have spent years raising Torreya taxifolia in greenhouses and seminatural 'potted orchards' in northern Georgia, Barlow and Martin dismissed these efforts, saying that 'potted is the botanical equivalent of caged.' They proposed that T. taxifolia be planted on privately owned forest lands in southern Appalachia, easily four hundred miles from the Florida Panhandle. The risk of the slow-growing, problem-prone Florida torreya becoming an invasive weed is vanishingly small, they argued, and in the Appalachian forests, the tree might even take the place of the eastern hemlock, another subcanopy conifer in precipitous decline."

    — Michelle Nijhuis, 2008
    "Taking Wildness in Hand: Rescuing Species"
    Orion Magazine

    * * * * *

    "The focus of the Torreya Guardians is an 'assisted migration' program that would introduce seedlings to forests across the Southern Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau (http://www.TorreyaGuardians.org). Their intent is to avert extinction by deliberately expanding the range of this endangered plant over 500 km northward. Because planting endangered plants in new environments is relatively simple as long as seeds are legally acquired and planted with landowner permission, the Torreya Guardians believe their efforts are justified. Introducing this species to regions where it has not existed for 65 million years is '[e]asy, legal, and cheap' (Barlow & Martin 2004)."

    — Jason S. McLachlan, Jessica J. Hellmann, and Mark W. Schwartz, 2007
    "A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change"
    Conservation Biology

    Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis, James Vose et al., editors, 2016, (300 pages in pdf; collaborative effort of 77 scientists).

    Although this document pertains to projecting and managing for drought the forests of the USA, it necessarily deals with the whole of climate change. This document is highly recommended as an overview of the current research and for its superb lists of key references by chapter. Only one tree species is mentioned in having ASSISTED MIGRATION underway in the USA:

       p. 81 "Centuries of horticultural and decades of silvicultural practices show that growth and establishment (reproductive success) of many tree species is possible well outside of their native ranges. Many commercial (e.g., loblolly pine) and ornamental species have had their ranges greatly expanded across the Southeastern United States. The widespread plantings of the southern magnolia in the southeastern Piedmont (Gruhn and White 2011) and upper Coastal Plain, and bois d'arc (Maclura pomifera) across the Eastern United States (Burton 1990) are examples of such facilitated migrations, helping to establish these species well beyond their native ranges. While these cultivated successes could be viewed as examples of the potential conservation value of assisted migration, far less is known about the likelihood of success of this management practice for the species most directly threatened by climate-induced environmental change. Efforts are currently underway to see if assisted migration can help with the federally endangered Florida torreya (Torreya taxifolia) as well as a number of other tree species imperiled by the anticipated impacts of increased drought and higher temperatures on their limited native distributions (McLachlan and others 2007, Williams and Dumroese 2013).

    Note by Barlow: In March, I checked with our staff contact at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if they now regard their ex situ Torreya plantings in northern Georgia as being a foundational component of a developing assisted migration project. Her answer was no. So the reference to Florida Torreya assisted migration in this U.S. Forest Service report is referring entirely to the project initiated by TORREYA GUARDIANS.

       Just before the 2015 global climate conference in Paris, The Economist included an 8-part "special report" on climate change. The biodiversity section features the work of Torreya Guardians as the USA example of climate adaptation underway. Online access: "A Modern Ark: To save endangered species move them to more congenial places".

    EXCERPT: Along the banks of the Apalachicola river, near the border between Florida and Georgia, lives a rare tree called a stinking cedar. Once common, Torreya taxifolia seems to have got stuck in this tiny pocket as the continent warmed after the last ice age. It cannot migrate northward because the surrounding soils are too poor. Attacked by fungi, just a few hundred stinking cedars remain along the river. Rising temperatures now threaten to kill them off entirely.
         Spying a looming extinction, a group of people is engaged in a kind of ecological vigilantism. The self-styled "Torreya Guardians" collect thousands of seeds a year and plant them in likely places across the eastern United States. Stinking cedar turns out to thrive in North Carolina. The Torreya Guardians are now trying to plant it in colder states like Ohio and Michigan as well. By the time the trees are fully grown, they reason, temperatures might be ideal there.
         Some are dubious. The Torreya Guardians were at first seen as "eco-terrorists spreading an invasive species", remembers Connie Barlow, the group's chief propagandist. She rejects that charge, pointing out that she is only moving the tree within America. She also thinks that drastic action of this kind will soon be widespread: "We are the radical edge of what is going to become a mainstream action."

       In 2015, science wroter Kara Rogers published a book that includes a detailed chapter on Florida Torreya (University of Arizona Press). The end of that chapter highlights the work of TORREYA GUARDIANS:
    ...Perhaps science needs to go through a trial of assisted migration with Florida torreya. It is, after all, the only way to find out whether the process truly works, and it would help us to better understand advantages and drawbacks.... Given its low invasive potential, the risks of moving ahead with its assisted migration are minimal. The Guardians have also used a very cautious approach, and one grounded in science, if premised on assumptions. The data they have collected on Florida torreya habitat preferences, germination, and seedling growth are themselves of remarkable value..."
    Access sample excerpts here or the book as it appears on Google Books: The Quiet Extinction: Stories of North America's Rare and Threatened Plants.

        A September 2014 4-page article, "Have Tree, Will Travel" is a superb way to grasp the paleoecological foundation that undergirds projects for which poleward "assisted migration" on the continent of origin is becoming standard practice in this century of rapid climate change. The author, park planner Kevan Williams, weaves the science and policy viewpoints into three sequential narratives:
        (1) a futile recent Nature Conservancy project of attempting to "rewild" a native camellia, Franklinia alatamaha, southward to its "native" (actually, peak-glacial) habitat in southern Georgia from its cultivated (rescue) domain near Philadelphia.
        (2) the ongoing (and thus far successful) attempt by citizen naturalists to work around the Endangered Species Act and thus on their own initiative move a critically endangered Florida conifer, Torreya taxifolia (photo left), from its peak glacial refuge in northern Florida into the southern Appalachians and points farther north.
        (3) the disaster looming large for even common forest trees, as climate shifts rapidly, along with the role that massive projects of assisted migration, on the one hand, and urban forest landscaping, on the other, could play in helping species move north.

       In 2014 two foresters, Mary I. Williams and R. Kasten Dumroese, created a very useful graphic, based on a tripartite distinction gaining traction among professional foresters as to how they regard "assisted migration."

    They distinguish 3 types of climate adpation entailing the movement of seeds or seedlings poleward or upslope: (1) Assisted population migration, (2) Assisted range expansion, and (3) Assisted species migration.

    Florida Torreya is the illustrated example of type 3. This chart appears in, "Assisted Migration: What It Means to Nursery Managers and Tree Planters".

        Torreya Guardians was featured in Chapter 5, "Assisted Migration," of the 2013 book by science writer Emma Marris, titled Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World.

    ... Barlow organized a planting party ... and she's pleased with how everything jelled as a result. As she put it in her essay on the action:

    "Were it not for the conservation biologists and land stewards who took alarm at the prospect of ordinary citizens acting on their own to move an endangered plant far north of its so-called 'native' range, there would have been little ground for the major media to pay attention to the desperate plight of one obscure species. And it was media attention that motivated us 'guardians' to consider that maybe now is the time, and maybe we are the people."
    A precedent has been set, and it was the amateurs rather than the professionals who set it.... All in all, it looks like the horse is out of the barn. What's not clear is whether scientists like Parmesan or citizens like Barlow will be running the show."


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