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The 1994 edition: National Register of big trees.

Begun in 1940, this unique AMERICAN FORESTS program recognizes not just the biggest individuals of some 700 species but a precious part of our natural heritage.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us share personal, local, or national historical connections with the trees around us. They are living links to our past. My childhood memories are peppered with the many times I climbed the now stately hemlock in my grandparents' back yard, planted by my grandfather around 1934. Five miles from where I grew up is a massive bur oak, the current national champion. It dates to when Daniel Boone helped lead a troop of Kentucky militiamen along a nearby buffalo trail to fight the British at Blue Licks in the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. Some exceptional trees, like the western junipers and bristlecone pines, have lived since the Bronze Age, giving us a living record of most of recorded human history. The great longevity of trees deserves the kind of respect and reverence we reserve for our elders and the great figures of history. Unfortunately, our capacity for restraint has been far outpaced by our ability and willingness to consume. In a 1940 issue of American Forests, forester Joseph Stearns expressed alarm at the rate we were cutting down the last stands of virgin forest that contained our mightiest monarchs. Stearns sent out a challenge to "... every individual tree lover and every forest conservationist in the country; to every forester, to every lumberman; to farmers, vacationists, to all who come in contact with trees..." to find and save our biggest trees. Thus was born AMERICAN FORESTS' national Big Tree Program.

With all the millions upon millions of trees in America, who, you may wonder, finds and measures the contenders for national-champion status? An Army Corps of Foresters armed with hypsometers, transits, clinometers, and trigonometric calculators? No, just people like you and me equipped with just a tape measure, perhaps a field guide to trees, and a curiosity about how that shade tree in the backyard, or that big pine on a favorite trail, stacks up against all the rest. This kind of citizen involvement was exactly what AMERICAN FORESTS had in mind when it established the National Register of Big Trees in 1940. The program seeks to identify and protect America's living landmarks while enhancing public appreciation and knowledge of our trees. Using AMERICAN FORESTS' relatively simple method for comparing tree sizes, anyone can measure and nominate a tree for champion status. The height (in feet), the circumference (in inches), and one-quarter of the average crown spread (in feet) are added together. For each species, the tree with the highest point total is the champion. Champion trees are "dethroned" when a newly nominated tree has more points, and any tree within five points of the highest is designated a co-champion. The first list of 77 champion trees came out in the April 1941 issue of American Forests. It included four trees that still reign and a 640-point live oak with an amazing crown spread of 168 feet. Almost a third were claimed by Maryland. By January 1945 the Register had grown to 228 species. In the current register 684 species are represented. But much more has taken place in the intervening years than just the simple addition of a few hundred champions. Due to the efforts of people like yourself all across the country, the Register is constantly changing. Hundreds of nominations are made each year. As champions fall, new ones are found to wear their crown. Others are dethroned by new discoveries, while some former champions regain their title. But most important of all, many big trees all across the country, whether they became champions or not, have received protection through an increased awareness that gives them a value far greater than the board-feet they contain.

Although the list is officially published every two years, many challenges are made, won, and lost before the compilations ever make it into print. Since the 1992 edition many big trees have fallen or been dethroned by the ascension of new champs. A digger pine in central California was crowned in 1992 but split apart a year later, wiping out a mare and a barn in the process. The long-standing champion American beech in northeastern Ohio had to make room for an equally large specimen in Philadelphia. The former champion torrey pine in Carpenteria, California, regained its title when it was discovered to have added two feet to its girth, 10 feet to its spread, and 20 feet to its height since its last measurement in 1973. One desert tree in Arizona has worn two different crowns. In 1992 it was listed as the champion yellow paloverde, but since then it has been correctly identified and crowned as the champion Jerusalem-thorn. About 25 coronations have been held for species that had no champion in the last Register.

AMERICAN FORESTS' Big Tree Program is truly a national effort. Champion trees are found in Hawaii and from Washington to Florida and Maine to southern California. Florida leads the country with 117 big trees, including co-champions, followed by Texas (86); California (82); Michigan (75); and Virginia (62). Together, these five have more than half the 799 current champions. Only Alaska, Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming have no current champs.

As the acreage of old-growth forest dwindles to a few isolated patches, champion trees become relics of our ancient forests. To sit in the shade of one of these monarchs, to touch its gnarled bark and contemplate all it has been through, is to appreciate life at a slower pace. They are like ancient ruins that emanate patience, peace, and perseverance. Yet they also conjure up fairy-tale images of mysterious, magical forests. Representing much more than the records they hold, America's champion trees are a precious part of our natural heritage. A Whit's-Eye View

Whit Bronaugh of Arlington, Washington, has been photographing and writing about big trees for almost five years. In that time he has photographed more than 70 national champions and published more than 20 articles on the subject. It all began as a photography-class project in California. Fascinated to discover that the world's tallest (redwood), biggest (giant sequoia), and oldest (bristlecone pine) trees were all located in his then-home state, Bronaugh wrote an independent-study proposal to photograph them for an article. "It's been done before," said Ralph Clevenger, Bronaugh's instructor and mentor. "Why don't you work on the champion specimens of other species of trees?" "It's one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received," says Bronaugh. "That project helped jump-start my career in nature photography and writing."

But to Bronaugh, big trees are only one specialty. Anything outdoors in a natural environment is fair game for his lenses, whether it's a multicolored butterfly in the tropical forest of Brazil or the soft morning light on some wilderness peak in the Cascades. Bronaugh's nature photographs have appeared in numerous books, magazines, and calendars, including five images in this year's prestigious Sierra Club calendars.

Although he studied photography for two years at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Bronaugh's way of seeing was primarily developed during his many years in the outdoors. Boyhood explorations of the forests in Kentucky and canoe trips in Canada eventually led him to become a wilderness instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. He has led 11-month-long expeditions in wilderness areas of Wyoming, Montana, and Baja California. The highlight of his personal adventures was an 80-day, 1,100-mile canoe expedition, alone with his brother, from Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories to the Arctic Ocean via the Back River. During the last 54 days of the trip they saw no one but each other.

Nature photography also requires a good knowledge of natural history. With degrees in wildlife biology and ecology, Bronaugh knows what to look for, and where. He did field research on mule deer in Colorado, tiger beetles in Arizona, and tropical birds in the rainforest of Peru before turning to photography as a way to satisfy his need to be out in nature doing something to help preserve it. What kind of camera does he use? "To make high-quality images, you need good, dependable equipment and exacting technique," says Bronaugh. "But by far the most important element of photography is the personal vision that goes into each photograph. Cameras don't take pictures; people do."

Currently, Bronaugh lives with his wife and partner, Louise, in Washington State between the Olympic and Cascade Mountains.

How long does Bronaugh plan to continue photographing big trees? "At least long enough to finish the book I'm working on," he says, "and I hope to have some images in the issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Big Tree Program--in the year 2040."
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Author:Bronaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:1469
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