Kelly Washburn, State Coordinator of New Mexico's Big Tree Program. Credit: Kelly Washburn

Meet Kelly Washburn, the newest addition to the National Big Tree Program’s state coordinator roster. Even though she’s only been New Mexico’s state coordinator for six months, Kelly is no stranger to the big-tree world. She was first introduced to the Big Tree Program while serving as a member of the Utah Urban Forest Council and the council’s Tree Promotions Subcommittee, where she helped to “measure, document and promote the Utah Big Tree Program.” Currently, Kelly is the urban and community forestry program manager for the New Mexico State Forestry Division located in Santa Fe.

With a background in forestry, it’s only fitting that someone who loves to ski, hike, ride dirt bikes and surf would also keep an eye out for big trees while they’re outdoors. “Anytime I’m outside, I’m looking at trees and for big trees! In fact, sometimes it’s a curse. It’s something that as a forester, particularly an urban forester, you simply cannot turn off,” Kelly says.

One of her favorite elements of being a state coordinator is having the opportunity to see and experience these wonderful trees. She has been known to knock on people’s doors and talk to them about their tree and delay hikes and bike rides with her husband just to photograph trees and plants. “Many of the people that nominate big trees are so excited just to share their experience with me — we often get lost in a conversation about that particular tree.”

Although she’s been out-of-commission this spring because of ankle surgery, her spirit and love for the Big Tree Program is keeping her motivated to get back in the field. Kelly is looking forward to seeing New Mexico’s state champion alligator juniper (a favorite from childhood) and the state’s biggest tree, a Fremont cottonwood in Hidalgo County, which has a circumference of 452 inches and is 87 feet tall with a crown spread of 74 feet, giving it a total of 557.5 points!

Kelly’s favorite big tree is the current national champion Arizona alder (342 points) in Cibola National Forest. Out of New Mexico’s 14 national champions, six are located in national forests, including the Rocky Mountain white fir (346 points), southwestern white pine (312 points) and Torrey yucca (111 points).

Recently, due to wildfires such as the Los Conchas Fire of 2011 and the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire that started in May 2012, many of the state’s champion trees are being threatened. While the trees in these areas are being evaluated, Washburn faces other challenges as the New Mexico state coordinator, such as finding the time and resources to track down and measure trees. Fortunately, the New Mexico Forestry staff and dedicated big-tree hunters are working hard to verify, photograph and obtain GPS coordinates for new nominations and their most prominent trees. An updated version of the state register will be launched in late fall.

So, what’s next for Kelly? “The future of New Mexico’s Big Tree Program, as well as other big tree programs across the country, are dependent on public involvement and the promotion of an environmental ethic,” she say. “We need to help promote big-tree programs as another excellent reason to get outside. Similar to our country’s national parks and monuments, state and national champion big trees are also national treasures!”

If you’re a resident of the “Land of Enchantment State” or just visiting, learn more about the New Mexico Big Tree Program, and see if you have the next champion tree.