Could Climate Change Push Buckeyes Out of Ohio?

It's not the best-researched global-warming theory, but it could be the most horrifying to certain fans of college football: Environmentalists said Friday that climate change might push the growing range of Ohio's iconic buckeye tree out of the state, leaving it for archrival Michigan.

Save The Buckeye, a coalition of environmental activists and outdoor enthusiasts, has a billboard in Columbus warning about the fate of the buckeye tree, and backers plan to hold rallies during football tailgating events.

They're hoping to channel Ohio pride into environmental awareness and action.

"People had thought of global warming as something far away, affecting polar bears," said Tom Bullock, an advocate for the Pew Environment Group in Ohio. "If we don't get started now we will reduce the opportunity to reduce global warming and curb its worst effects."

The billboard next to the Buckeye Hall of Fame and Cafe and along a highway near Ohio Stadium says: "Michigan Buckeye? Global Warming is Sending Ohio's Buckeye North."

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Although found in other parts of the Midwest, the buckeye tree is the official state tree of Ohio, and the buckeye nut provided the name for sports teams at Ohio State University, whose football rival is the University of Michigan.

The brown nut's lighter circular "eye," resembling the eye of a buck deer, gave the tree its name.

The coalition doesn't have any evidence that the buckeye's range has been pushed north but says global warming threatens to make that happen.

David Lytle, chief of the Division of Forestry in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the campaign has merit because it calls attention to important ecological issues.

"I think it's a lighthearted way of addressing a serious subject," he said.

Lytle said healthy adult buckeye trees can tolerate a wide climate range, although seedlings are more sensitive. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could eventually give buckeye trees a more comfortable habitat, he said.

Football fans may not want to hear this, but Michigan already has some buckeye trees.

Donald R. Zak, an ecology professor at the University of Michigan, said it's not unusual to find a buckeye tree in southern Michigan, where the climate and soil is like that in northern Ohio.

The Great Lakes region has experienced climate change often, including when glaciers shaped the landscape and then pulled back. But global warming presents a real concern now, Zak said.

"Humans are the cause of this warming, and that's no longer a debate among scientists," he said.