"TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, Alaska — The Sitka spruce soaring more than 180 feet skyward has stood on this spot on Prince of Wales Island for centuries. While fierce winds have contorted the towering trunks of its neighbors, the spruce’s trunk is ramrod straight. Standing apart from the rest of the canopy, it ascends to the height of a 17-story building.
This tree’s erect bearing — a 1917 publication called the Sitka species “the autocrat of timbers” — is what helps give it such extraordinary commercial value. Musical instrument makers covet its fine grain, as do builders whose clients want old-growth wood that’s increasingly scarce. In a world whose ancient forests have largely disappeared, this grove holds a sliver of what remains.
Even when the top and branches are lopped off, a tree this size would yield at least 6,000 board feet of lumber, said industry consultant Catherine Mater, who assessed the spruce’s potential market value for The Washington Post. It would fetch around $17,500 on the open market.
But there’s another value the spruce holds: the carbon dioxide locked inside its fibers, in its roots, in the soil and in the vegetation that clings to it from its branches to its base, where berry bushes proliferate. The miraculous process that sustains life on Earth is embedded within its vast trunk, a reservoir for the greenhouse gases that now threaten humanity. The spruce draws in carbon dioxide through the tiny holes in its leaves, known as stomata, and water through its roots. The sunlight it absorbs fuels a reaction that splits the water and carbon dioxide into glucose, which traps the carbon, and releases oxygen into the atmosphere."