Father of National Parks

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite National Park

John Muir (right) with Theodore Roosevelt (left) atop Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Library of Congress)

The conservation movement has been fortunate enough to have a number of truly wonderful figures over the years. Few of these people, however, are as recognizable a name as John Muir. This man was a naturalist, a writer, an adventurer and above all an advocate for wilderness. His work was so influential that many call him the “Father of National Parks.”

This Saturday is John Muir’s birthday — he was born April 21, 1838. So we’re taking a moment today to look just a few of the many places we still enjoy today, thanks to his work.

Yosemite National Park
In many ways, Muir was far ahead of his time in recognizing both cause — his theory of glaciation in the Sierra turned the theories of the day on their ears — and effect in the natural world. He strongly believed that one of the greatest threats to his beloved Yosemite was the continued spread of livestock. Though the area was owned by the state, the public used it as their own without concern for the forests or grasslands; sheep, goats and cows were permitted to graze across the region. Through a series of articles in the magazine Century, Muir advocated strongly that the lands be protected and never turned into grazing pastures. His writings eventually led to the 1890 act of Congress that created Yosemite National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park
At age 50, John Muir’s travels led him to Washington’s Mount Rainier. Along with several companions, Muir climbed the 14,410 feet to the mountain’s peak in what was only the fifth recorded ascent. He wrote about his experience in Ascent of Mount Rainier, which helped to bring the location into the public eye, and he became a strong advocate for the region, wanting to protect the area’s forests, meadows, glaciers and, of course, the mountain itself from development of any kind. On March 2, 1899, Mount Ranier National Park officially became the fifth national park in the U.S.

Sequoia National Park
This park is home to some of the most impressive trees one could ever hope to see, including the long-standing big tree national champion “General Sherman,” a giant sequoia and one of the largest living trees in the world. Muir walked through these groves of giant sequoias and thought them to be among the most fascinating of ecosystems — certainly worth whatever protection humans could afford them. He was a strong voice in preserving the area known today as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

John Muir in the Sierra Nevada

John Muir in the Sierra Nevada mountains

In his decades of working to protect natural places, one of Muir’s greatest and most valuable attributes was his eloquence, which poured through in every book, article, or letter he ever wrote. From his words alone, people could see the beauty of places they had never been and were willing to take up the cause. So it seems only right to leave you with words from Muir himself:

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed — chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides. … It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools — only Uncle Sam can do that.”
~John Muir, “The American Forests,” Our National Parks, 1901


Protecting Forests: On the Ground and in Congress

by Amanda Tai

San Gabriel Mountain Wilderness. Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr

This week, Congress is busy with hearings and debate on a number of land-use bills, quite a few of which impact our forests.

Yesterday, I attended a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing to discuss the Land Acquisition to Cut National Debt Act (or LAND Act). Though cutting the national debt is a topic that concerns us all, this bill actually threatens a wide range of conservation projects, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which creates and protects wildlife refuges, parks and recreational areas. If the bill is passed, it would mean that the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service’s federal land acquisition would be limited: They can acquire more land, but in doing so, they have to give up authority on the same amount of land. So, basically, if any of those agencies wanted to accept proposals for new conservation projects and restoration efforts that would require new federal lands, they could only do so by reducing the support for or eliminating a project already in the works. Some committee members think that limiting these activities would shift the focus more onto improving management on the lands for which these agencies are already responsible. A good idea in theory, but not in practice. Consensus among agency witnesses and even some committee members is that the bill wouldn’t make a dent in the federal deficit, but constant monitoring to stay under the acre limit would actually make land management more time-consuming and costly. Considering that these agencies are responsible for the care of some of the most beautiful, valuable and iconic natural places in the country, this sounds like a bad idea.

Another bill gaining attention this week is the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, introduced by Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL). On the face of it, the bill deals mostly with guidelines for hunters and anglers. Unfortunately, it also contains language that threatens America’s wilderness. The bill includes measures that would allow, for the first time, road construction, motorized vehicle use, logging and development in areas that have been protected as wilderness areas. These new activities could have a wide-ranging impact on wildlife and ecosystems that have already been declared important to preserve. The bill passed last night with a vote of 274 to 146 — a victory that some see as an election-year tactic by House Republicans. Thankfully, the threat to our wildernesses isn’t going unanswered. Representative Raúl Grijalva (ranking member on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands) says that Democrats are working on a quick response. The bill goes on to the Senate next for consideration, so hope is not lost.

If you are concerned about this issue, let your members of Congress know by posting your concerns to their Facebook pages.

Sample text:

Please vote against the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, H.R. 4089. While the bill says it protects hunting and fishing in wilderness, it would actually open up Wilderness Areas to motorized vehicles and other harmful development and hurt hunting and fishing in those places. Please oppose this bill until the anti-wilderness provision is completely removed from the legislation. Thank you.

Keeping Sewage Out of Our Water

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

Sewage in our rivers? Yuck!

Combined sewer overflow on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Rhode Island

Combined sewer overflow on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Rhode Island, and heavy algal bloom. Credit: Christopher Deacutis/Narragansett Bay Estuary Program

I was really disturbed when I learned a few years ago about combined sewer systems — where sewage and rainwater is collected in one pipe system — and just how many cities have these. Although no longer built into new communities, more than 770 older cities still use their combined sewer that was built back in the day, including my own city of Washington, D.C. Combined sewers may have once been thought to be convenient for urban landscapes, as they collect the wastewater from your toilets, the wastewater from industrial sites and the water that drains from rooftops and roads after rainfall (called stormwater) and take all this combined water to a facility for treatment. Everything is treated at once and then is more “safely” disposed of into a nearby stream or river; the fish can continue to swim along safely, and you can continue to wade around without much thought. Makes sense, right?

With a small amount of rain, this system works just fine. Combined sewers are built to handle the average amount of water flows. The catastrophic issue, however, is that during a large rainfall or snowmelt event, the volume of stormwater often exceeds the capacity of the sewer pipe. And, to prevent pipe breakage or sewage backup, as part of the plan, Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) areas are designed to allow a portion of the untreated combined wastewater to overflow into the nearest stream, river or lake.

Combined Sewer System illustration

How a combined sewer system operates. Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Talk about water pollution! These CSOs allow not just human waste (in case that wasn’t gross enough), but all sorts of industrial waste, toxic materials and debris to go directly into our environment. Thus, they are a major source of ecological problems and human-health concerns. In a December 2001 report to Congress, the Center for Marine Conservation states that “[s]ome of the common diseases [found in these areas] include hepatitis, gastric disorders, dysentery and swimmer’s ear. Other forms of bacteria found in untreated waters can cause typhoid, cholera and dysentery.” Eww.

Well, at least some cities are trying to improve this. Last week, it was very exciting to read that the EPA signed off on Philadelphia’s $2.4 billion green plan to stop sewer overflows in what the E&E News calls the “strongest endorsement yet of the green infrastructure technology.” With the extensive use of green infrastructure — grass, trees, porous pavement and retention ponds — this will make Philadelphia’s new initiative the first nearly “all-green” plan for addressing sewer overflows.

So, how exactly do trees help? As we reveal on our Forests & Cities page, rather than rainwater falling directly onto rooftops or pavement and rushing into the sewer, trees intercept this water first, and less water ends up in the pipes. With more trees planted, even less stormwater will enter the pipes, eliminating the need to overflow into the local stream or river!

In the next few weeks, the EPA will unveil a new regulation expected to promote the use of green infrastructure and require new developments to absorb rainfall rather than letting it rush into overburdened sewers. There is hope that the increasing support for green infrastructure will help avoid the water pollution caused by combined sewers. I’m looking forward to the day when I can enjoy a large rainfall and not be concerned about the horrible consequences it may have on the local waterways.

At Home in the Forest

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Baby gopher tortoise

Baby gopher tortoise. Credit: Randy Browning/USFWS

When you read the words forests and wildlife, I’m sure the first visions that pop into your head are pictures of deer foraging in the understory, squirrels running up trunks and birds flitting in the canopy. Forests, though, aren’t home just to our mammalian and avian friends. What would your reaction be if I told you that certain species of tortoises require forests to survive?

Shocking, yes? Only four tortoise species are found in North America, and one them, the gopher tortoise, is particularly fond of longleaf pine trees. Gopher tortoises make their homes, or burrows, in the deep, well-drained soils around longleaf pine trees. Over the course of their 50-60 year life, they’ll live in multiple burrows, and when they abandon one, other wildlife quickly claim the remnants for their own purposes. Gopher tortoises also feed on grasses and plants in the area, helping with seed dispersal. These are just two of the reasons that the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species in America’s southeast.

Unfortunately, longleaf pine forests have been disappearing over the centuries. Four hundred years ago, America’s southeast had 60-90 million acres of longleaf pine forest, and now, only a few million acres remain. As the forests have gone, so have the tortoises: They’re now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Gopher tortoises aren’t alone in their plight, as our forests are full of wildlife species that rely on forests to survive and have been affected by their destruction:

Grizzly bear cubs

Grizzly bear cubs. Credit: USFWS

  • Hundreds of years ago, grizzly bears numbered in tens of thousands. Now, less than 1,400 remain in the wild, and one of their primary food sources, whitebark pine seeds, are rapidly disappearing in the West due to blister rust and mountain pine beetle infestation.
  • Red-cockaded woodpeckers, like the gopher tortoise, rely on longleaf pine to build their homes and are also endangered because of habitat loss. Like the tortoise, their abandoned homes make good homes for other species as well.
  • Jaguarundi, a slender-bodied wild cat, has seen its brushland, lightly wooded habitat in Texas decreased by 90 percent, and it’s been endangered for the last 25 years.

Because of the strong benefits that forests provide for wildlife, from shelter to food, dozens of our Global ReLeaf projects each year focus on restoration efforts for wildlife. Plus, our policy team advocates for forest issues that are of particular importance to our furry, winged, hard-shelled and scaly friends. To find out more about the connections between forests and wildlife, how we’re working to help and how you can help, too, visit our Forests & Wildlife Habitat page.

Champions Lost

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

When the National Register of Big Trees is released, it is always exciting. There are new species and new champions, often with amazing proportions and incredible stories. Unfortunately, this often means that other champion trees have lost their crowns — usually a bitter pill to swallow for those involved in achieving it in the first place. From the person who discovers, measures and nominates the tree to the landowner of the property on which it sits, a dethroned tree can be tough to take. New champions also mean another win or loss in a “sport” that has become competitive on many levels, with individuals, counties and even states playing tug-of-war over who has the most champions to their name. So let’s take a look at a few of the champions that will be losing their titles when the spring edition of the Register comes out later this month. Keep in mind that champions are determined using a pretty simple equation: circumference (in inches) + height (in feet) + 1/4th of the average crown spread (in feet) = total points.

dethroned national champion black locust tree

The former national champion black locust tree in Livingston, New York (Photo credit: The Davey Tree Expert Company)

First up, there’s the valley oak. The 2011 champion in Tulare, California — with 409 points — is losing its crown to a monster of a tree in Mendocino, which has a whopping total of 628 points. I believe they call that a knockout punch.

Next, we have the black locust champion in Livingston, New York. This tree is losing its title for a rather sad reason: No one has re-measured it. To be eligible for the National Register, trees have to be re-measured at least once every 10 years to be sure that they’re still alive and well. Our state coordinators and tree hunters do their best to re-measure their champs, but if they can’t the title is lost. The new black locust champion is located in New Hampshire, and even though its 300 total points place it at 123 less than the previous champ, it retains the title — for now.

Another champion all too familiar with the 10-year rule is the incense-cedar in California. This massive 645-point tree was dethroned last year because of it. But this year, it was re-measured and will regain its crown, taking out the current 283-point champion in Henderson, North Carolina.

Then, there’s the American elm. The title for tree has been ping-ponging its way around various states over the years, landing in Michigan for the 2002 Register, Tennessee in 2004 and 2006, then Maryland in 2008 and Ohio in 2010 and 2011. This year it relocates again to Iberville, Louisiana, with a total of 454 points — that’s 38 more than the previous champion.

Curious what other champion trees have lost their crowns and which ones may have replaced them? Stay tuned every Friday as we continue to count down to the release of the spring edition of the 2012 National Register of Big Trees on April 27.


Pigskin Versus White Oak

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

American football first emerged on the sports scene about 140 years ago, around the same time that Virginia Tech was being founded in Blacksburg, Virginia. More than 200 years prior to those moments — back in the same century that America’s first permanent English settlement, Jamestown, was being established — some white oak trees took root in Blacksburg. Today, those white oaks, which could live to be 600 years old, are experiencing a mid-life crisis: The Virginia Tech athletic department wants to cut them down to build a new indoor athletics practice facility, primarily for the football team.

Virginia Tech's Stadium Woods

A satellite view of the Virginia Tech campus, showing Lane Stadium the lower left with Stadium Woods running along the right of the image. The area outlined in orange is the site proposed for the new practice facility. Credit: Google Maps

Adjacent to Virginia Tech’s football stadium is a 15-acre wooded area known as Stadium Woods. According to scientific estimates, these woods contain at least 45 trees that are 250 years old and older. They’ve born witness to the American Revolution, the creation of the commonwealth of Virginia and the formation of Hokie Nation. And their environmental value is profound.

You see, Stadium Woods represents an old-growth forest, which is characterized by a combination of old trees, young trees and dead trees; woody debris on the forest floor; many canopy layers; and remnants from fallen, large trees. Old-growth forests are rare — at the last estimate in the early 90s, less than one percent of America’s southeast forests were defined as old growth. Even rarer are old-growth forests that are accessible to people, as most of them have survived on rugged, inhospitable land. Stadium Woods, though, is there for all visitors to Virginia Tech’s campus to enjoy, and it provide a unique habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, from songbirds to mammals to insects. Because of their size, old-growth white oaks store oodles of carbon and conversely are pretty efficient air purifiers. Plus, they’re survivors, meaning their research value in helping scientists discover preferred growing conditions, disease resistance and more is significant. Old-growth forests, therefore, are something to be treasured and preserved.

Stadium Woods’ opponent in this fight is formidable, though, as football is a beloved American pastime and represents millions of dollars of value to the school, despite the hefty price tag of $25 million for the new indoor practice facility. A new practice facility would create more efficient practices and would lure more high-level recruits. Better recruits means more championships which means more dollar signs. But should this profit come at the expense of ancestral trees?

Many are saying no, including the Virginia Tech Faculty Senate and the Commission on Student Affairs, and are pressuring the school’s administrators to find another solution, another location, another something to preserve these living legacies. Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger appointed a committee earlier this year to look into the debate and expects its report by June 1. If you’d like to show your support for preserving Stadium Woods, visit the Friends of Stadium Woods website to sign a petition and find other ways to help.

Protecting the Environment: Then and Now

by Loose Leaf Team

Demonstrators in Washington, D.C. on Earth Day, 1970. Credit: South Coast AQMD

This Earth Month, let’s take a look back and see how environmental politics have changed since the first Earth Day, 42 years ago.

1970 was a monumental year for the environmental movement. In addition to the first Earth Day, Congress also authorized the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). NEPA, CEQ and the EPA put environmental issues on the national policy stage and made the environment a priority for federal agencies. These entities still exist today and continue to ensure that environmental factors remain a priority in our political system.

The EPA was created by an executive order from President Richard Nixon on July 9, 1970. The agency started out by tackling the major environmental issues of air and water pollution. Congress authorized the Clean Air Act in the EPA’s first year, allowing the agency to set national pollution standards to ensure healthy air quality. The Clean Water Act followed two years later.

Philadelphia strives to become the greenest city in America. Credit: Traveler76/Flickr

Air and water protection continues to be a top priority for the agency today. But unlike in the 1970s, the EPA is implementing more creative and cost-effective ways to address those issues, like using green infrastructure. Just yesterday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed a historic agreement with the city of Philadelphia, in its drive to become America’s greenest city. The agreement signifies the agency’s endorsement of the $2.4 billion Green City, Clean Waters plan to use trees and grasses to address stormwater pollution in Philadelphia. Many cities are also using similar green infrastructure strategies to alleviate the impact of environmental stresses, like pollution, on their communities.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 40 years since the EPA was created. I still think of the environmental movement as a relatively recent development, but maybe that’s because the concept of environmentalism continues to evolve. Contemporary ideas like green infrastructure may not have resonated in a 1970s America, but they certainly have roots in the air and water pollution issues of the 1970s. If the people that helped create the EPA could see what the agency is doing today, I think they would be pleased with the results.

For more on the last 40 years, check out the EPA’s timeline.

Trail Trees

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

When I’m driving in a new area, I am one of those people who become entirely reliant on a GPS. I find it hard to imagine how people found their way around before this nifty invention — or worse, before even paper maps were available. But it turns out that trees played quite the part in keeping early American travelers on the right path.

Native American tree marker

Credit: FlipC/Flickr

Across the U.S., you can find trees that are oddly shaped. Their trunks have odd kinks in them, or bend at strange angles. While some of them may indeed be simple quirks of nature, most of these trees are actually landmarks that helped guide indigenous people on their way. Native Americans would bend young trees to create permanent trail markers, designating safe paths through rough country and pointing travelers toward water, food or other important landmarks. Over the years, the trees have grown, keeping their original shape, but with their purpose all but forgotten as modern life sprang up around them. Today, we may not need these “trail trees” to navigate, but their place in history makes them invaluable. Imagine the stories these trees could tell.

Native American trail marker tree

Credit: Janet Powell

Visitors to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument can see examples of this practice in the many bent ponderosa pines to be found at the site. These trail trees point towards Pikes Peak, which the local Ute Indians believed to be a sacred site. But not every marker tree is so easily spotted. And in fact, looking for a strangely shaped tree isn’t quite enough, since each tribe created slightly different markers. Because most people don’t realize what these trees truly are, they are easily overlooked and can fall victim to development, disaster or disease with no one caring for them. Because trail trees are roughly 150 to 200 years old, many of them won’t be with us for very much longer. We may still be able to see this original roadmap of our country, but the window to do so is closing.

Many groups today are working together to make sure that trail trees are identified and protected for the history they represent. The organizations, like the trees, range across the U.S., from the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition and the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society to the Georgia-based Mountain Stewards, who have created a database of well more than a thousand of these remarkable trees across 39 different states.

These trees can be hiding out in parks, on mountain trails or in any number of places, so in addition to their research, these groups work off of tips from locals who report strange-looking trees. So next time you see a tree that looks just a little bit odd, check and see if it’s possible for it to be a trail tree — you may just find that you’ve stumbled upon a piece of living history.

A Threatening Insect Infestation

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Every day, our forests and trees are under assault: from droughts, tornadoes and hurricanes to fires and climate change. One particular brand of threat, though, is often sneaky, small and numbers in the thousands: insects.

Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer. Credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University/Bugwood.org

Trees and insects can often have a symbiotic relationship, with the insect providing pollination and other services to the trees, while the trees provide the insects with food and protection. Sometimes, though, those insects become unwanted houseguests and deadly serial killers.

Last week, the Chicago suburbs Batavia and Deerfield each announced that they would be removing hundreds of ash trees due to damage and death caused by the emerald ash borer (EAB). With its iridescent green body, EAB may look pretty, but it leaves nothing beautiful in its wake.

First found in the U.S. in Detroit, Michigan, in 2002 — when it likely arrived via wood in cargo bays on ships from Russia, China, Japan or Korea — this non-native pest has been destroying ash canopies throughout the Midwest and Canada and continues to spread. And they’re likely to be on the move again soon.

Injecting an ash tree to protect against EAB

Injecting an ash tree to protect against EAB — mauget capsules are used to inject nutrients or pesticides into cambium layer for uptake by the tree. Credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University/Bugwood.org

Like many insects, EAB larvae spend the winter growing, protected in their host tree. Come spring, they emerge and find new ash trees on which to feed and ultimately destroy. With this year’s early spring, forest officials are already preparing for the re-emergence of this killer. Last week, a handful of states, including Georgia, Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota, announced plans to hang thousands of traps on their trees in hopes of staving off the spread of EAB to their forests. The traps are designed to attract EAB through their color and scent, which mimics that of a stressed ash tree. Foresters hope that these traps will be able to capture the elusive insect and provide early warnings for areas at risk, allowing officials to possibly invest in expensive injections and other chemical treatments to the trees to prevent infection.

The best treatment option currently available, though, is removal of the infested trees in hopes of preventing the spread of EAB to the healthy ones. As a result, some communities are at risk of losing a large percentage of their canopy — Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin’s canopy is almost 50 percent ash — which will diminish the overall well-being of the community’s ecosystem. As a result, the USDA Forest Service is actively issuing grants to communities to replace trees in affected areas, and our Global ReLeaf work to restore forest areas — both urban and rural — in the Midwest is more important than ever.

And, unfortunately, EAB isn’t the only threat our forests are facing. So this Earth Month, head over to our Forest Threats page to learn about more of the issues facing America’s forests and how you can help.

We Are the Champions

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

general sherman giant sequoia

General Sherman (Credit: Kimon Berlin)

Later this month, we have something special in store for you: The spring edition of our National Register of Big Trees will be released on April 27th! In anticipation, we’ll be talking about big trees every Friday until the release of the new register. It showcases each of the biggest trees — we call them champions — of native and naturalized species in the U.S. People from all walks of life — foresters, hikers, arborists, teachers, gardeners and more — contribute to this list through our National Big Tree Program, which has been celebrating trees of all sizes since 1940. Since that first year when the call came to find and protect the biggest trees in America, the program has grown to include coordinators, hunters and champions in all 50 states.

We are proud of our program’s 72 years of history, but some of our champions go back a great deal further than that. Just to give you an idea of how impressive our champion trees really are, let’s take a look at those who have held the crown since the very beginning.

Giant Sequoia
This champion tree goes by the name General Sherman, after the famous Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. It is estimated to be one of the largest living trees in the world by volume, and scientists put its age between 2,300 and 2,700 years, making it one of the oldest known trees as well. Its astonishing size — more than 100 feet around and about 275 feet tall — makes it the prime attraction in its home at California’s Sequoia National Park. It should be no surprise that when we started seeking the biggest trees in 1940, General Sherman made the list, and he hasn’t left it since — although some competitors have sure given him a run for his money.


bennett western juniper

The Bennett Juniper, national champion western juniper (Credit: OutdoorPDK)

Rocky Mountain Juniper
At first glance, it might be hard to tell if this champion tree is still among the living. It is twisted and gnarled and has only a small patch of green at its crown to hint at life. But for being about 1,500 years old, Jardine Juniper — named for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture William Marion Jardine — looks pretty good to us. You can find it at the top of a peak in the Logan Canyon area of Utah’s Cache National Forest. It’s quite a hike to see this Rocky Mountain juniper, but once you make it up the trail to the viewing platform, you can tell that the tree you’re looking at is one heck of a survivor — and a national champion to boot.

Western Juniper
This tree is another Californian, located in Stanislaus National Forest, and at more than 40 feet around and 78 feet tall, it is the largest western juniper in the United States. It has gnarled branches, shrubby leaves and beautiful red bark and goes by the name of Bennett Juniper, after naturalist Clarence Bennett. Estimates of its age vary from as old as 6,000 years to as “young” as 1,000 years. Either way, we’re pretty sure this champion tree has more birthday candles to its credit than most trees you’ll see in a lifetime.

These are just three of hundreds of remarkable national champion trees that will be featured in the National Register later this month. Check back every Friday in April for more updates and cool facts about the National Big Tree Program.