Bob Hannah and the Champions of West Virginia
West Virginia’s state forests are often characterized by wide swaths of untouched trees, largely populated by Virginia pine, yellow poplar, white oak, and mountain maple. Of these species, several have been nominated to State or National Champion status, recognizing them as the largest member of their species in either the state or the country. According to the West Virginia Wild and Wonderful pamphlet issued by the State Forestry Department, once nominated, a tree is then measured by one of several foresters, taking into account the tree’s height, circumference and crown spread, which is calculated as the width of the trees longest branches, leaves or twigs, with a second measurement taken at a 90 degree angle to the first. Tree circumference, measured at chest height, and crown size are easily measured using a measuring tape, although height can be more difficult to measure, and can be measured in a variety of ways, usually involving tape and a ladder. Trees are issued an aggregated score based on the sum total of these measurements, and the tree with the highest score is designated its species’ champion.
Three trees in particular — the mountain maple, fawnleaf hawthorn, and Virginia pine – have been designated West Virginia State Champions, with both the fawnleaf hawthorn and the Virginia pine also taking the national championship. The maple, located in Monongahela National Forest, stands 44 feet tall, with a circumference of 31 inches, an average crown spread of 32 feet, and a total score of 83 points; the hawthorn, from Harrison County, is 38 feet tall, 56 inches around and has a 37-foot crown spread for a total of 103 points. Meanwhile, the Virginia pine, located in Monongalia County, has a height of 65 feet, a crown spread of 63 feet, a circumference of 125 inches and a total score of 206. These trees’ ages are unknown. Both the fawnleaf and pine were measured, and the Virginia pine nominated, to Champion status by Bob Hannah, Urban Forestry coordinator and Big Tree coordinator for the West Virginia Division of Forestry.Having worked with the West Virginia Big Tree Program for five years, Bob spends three to five days a year with seven other certified Big Tree inspectors, searching for big trees to conserve, though he spends over 200 days a year in the woods either as part of work or as part of his pastimes, which include hunting, fishing and tree farm management. The seven other foresters, working with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, are trained Big Tree inspectors, and inspect all trees nominated by the public. “Turner Sharp, a retired forester, is our greatest Big Tree hunter,” states Bob in a recent interview. Sharp, also chairman of the Parksburg Tree Commission, has been working with the Division of Forestry since 2009 to keep the state’s Big Tree Register up to date. As part of this project, Sharp and his team remeasure existing champions to account for growth and keep their aggregated scores up to date, in addition to measuring recently nominated champions. Furthermore, members of the public are encouraged to search for large trees out of a sense of friendly competition to see who can find the state champion. Always looking forward to finding new trees to nominate, Bob encourages tree enthusiasts to visit the Big Tree website, found at www.wvcommerce.org/BigTrees, and to aid in the search for potential champion trees.