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Introduction: the 1992 edition, national register of big trees.

Now in its 52nd year, AFA's distinctive program to recognize champion trees is getting new impetus from today's environmental awakening. was planting trees outside Albuquerque last spring when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my foot. I took off my shoe and, finally, my sock but was unable to find the source of the discomfort. As a last resort, I checked the bottom of my shoe, and there was the long, tough thorn of a black locust. A few days later, in southern Maryland, I noticed the perfumed scent I look forward to each year-the distinctive smell of blooming black locust.

This little story demonstrates the ambiguous relationship we humans have with trees. Trees help to make our world serene and healthy, but their "care and feeding" bring responsibility. But as most of us realize, their costs are far outweighed by their benefits-environmental, conservation, psychological, and aesthetic values that enrich human life and, like a good cheese or wine, increase dramatically with age. A large tree brings a wealth of environmental goodies including broad canopy cover, the ability to purify air and water, and space for wildlife. A mature tree will shade a large area, cool urban heat islands, hold soil, and protect groundwater.

Our emotional attachment to trees also multiplies with each growing season. No one likes to see newly planted seedlings or young trees die, but the loss of a venerable arboreal friend can be akin to losing kin. As AFA's vice president for program services, which includes overseeing the Big Trees program, I hear that message repeatedly. For example, a woman called recently to report the loss of 14 old oaks in a nearby park to gypsymoth damage. She would have called earlier, she said, but she had to wait until she could talk about the trees without crying. Similarly, when I reported the death of the National Champion Coast Redwood (see "The Fall of the Dyerville Giant," page 18) to a faithful Big Tree Hunter, he was devastated.

Since the inception of the National Register of Big Trees in 1940, the American Forestry Association has promoted the program as a way to encourage everyone to appreciate all the values and benefits of trees. Now, with heightened interest in the environment in general, we have a fertile new opportunity to put this program to work. National Champion trees are worth protecting, not only as the largest-known specimens of their species but also because of the environmental values all trees of great size or other distinction bring to us, and because of the link they provide with our past and to our future.

One legislative example of this recognition of the value of significant trees comes from Maryland. That state recently passed a "state-of-the-art" tree bill that protects not only current national and state champions but also Maryland's future champs! Any tree within 75 percent of the size of a state or national champion is protected so that it too can grow to champion size. This state takes its trees seriously.

Champion trees, wherever they grow, are indicators of good environmental conditions. On a global scale, trees and forests are barometers of environmental health, or lack of it. Like the canaries that warned early miners of unsafe conditions underground, trees often reveal the first visible signs of environmental distress. One example is the decline of the Black Forest in Germany that signaled the damage from acid precipitation.

It may be said, then, that a city, state, or nation that values its trees and forests places a high priority on environmental quality. In this way, the National Register of Big Trees program is a symbol of the environmental quality humans must ensure for all trees, to the benefit of all the species that share this planet Earth.

In 1989 AFA took on a strong ally when the Davey Tree Expert Company of Kent, Ohio, agreed to sponsor the National Register of Big Trees. Davey's business is the care and preservation of trees across America, making the company an ideal partner.

This 1992 edition of the National Register contains some noteworthy changes. The literally earth-shattering fall of the Dyerville Giant coast redwood, reportedly heard miles away like the roar of a locomotive, has led to the crowning of a tree called The Giant as the new redwood champion. That tree, Dyerville's neighbor in Humboldt (CA) State Park, came in at a whopping 1,017 points; its trunk circumference is 638 inches, height is 363 feet, and the average crown spread is 62.

In an emotional letter accompanying his nomination of The Giant, Ron Hildebrant said, "As I write this, however, a sense of sadness comes over me about the Dyerville Giant. It seems the ground got too wet from heavy rains, then a tree fell, hitting another, which in turn hit the Dyerville Giant. I saw the tree on March 26, two days after it fell. It was a terrible mess of shattered trunk, exploded-looking wood, massive shattered limbs, and a chaos of fresh green needles. It was a pathetic sight. "

One of a handful of champs that had reigned since the program's inception in 1940, the California sycamore was washed away in a flood, which is ironic since California is now in its fifth year of drought (see "The Passing of Champions," in the National Register insert in this magazine). A lesson to be learned here is that without trees to hold the soil, flash floods in a drought-stricken area do much more damage than they would otherwise. During a drought, it is more important than ever to plant trees.,

The new Douglas-fir champion in Oregon has already caused a stir in the Northwest. Nominator Hank Williams, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as the tree's owner," and the Oregon Department of Forestry have finally agreed on a set of dimensions. The "stats" were hotly debated, incorrectly inflated and reported by the media, and difficult to get since this giant lives on a precarious slope in Coos County. The final figures totally blew away the two reigning co-champions in Washington, one of which was originally crowned in 1945.

Two of our venerable champions lost some points since the 1990 Register was published. The National Champion American elm, called the Louis Vieux, near Louisville, Kansas, suffered storm damage, and although its circumference has increased two inches since 1988, its height is down five feet and crown spread has decreased from 116 to 91 feet, for a new total score of 435 points. (You may remember that the Louis Vieux was temporarily dethroned between 1986 and 1988 by a Virginia upstart that later lost its life to the pervasive Dutch elm disease.)

And the Wye Oak, Maryland's arboreal pride and joy and the reigning National Champion white oak since 1940, has also decreased in size-down from a total of 557 points to a still-tough-to-beat 478.

A new northern catalpa co-champion in Walla Walla, Washington, rivals the long-standing champ on the state capitol grounds in Lansing, Michigan. And Michigan's newest National Champion is an American chestnut; large specimens of this near-extinct species are becoming harder and harder to find ! All of this just goes to prove that National Champions can be found anywhere, from Sequoia National Park, home of the General Sherman giant sequoia, to Hoopy's RV Park in Alamo, Texas, where grows the National Champion great leucaena. And wherever America's living landmarks stand is hallowed ground to those of us who esteem these arboreal monarchs.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Forests
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Gangloff, Deborah
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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