Champions Lost

by American Forests

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 American Forests

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 American Forests

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 American Forests

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 American Forests

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/

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/

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 American Forests

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.

Speaking Plants and More

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Every time I turned around this week, there seemed to be some new study, research or news related to forests, trees and flora that made me go, “That’s really interesting.” This made selecting a topic for today’s blog excessively difficult, so instead of selecting one, I selected four. Hope you find each of them as intriguing as I did. 

Corn stalks

Corn stalks. Credit: davef3138/Flickr

Speaking Plants
According to a new study released this week by the University of Western Australia, it appears that plants, at least corn, use a series of clicking noises from their roots to communicate with one another. The research team recorded clicking noises in the 220Hz range (a range that humans can hear, too) made by the roots of young corn plants and then played similar sounds to corn plants whose roots were suspended in water. And the plants reacted, leaning toward the source of the sound. The implications of this information aren’t really known at this point, but the research team behind this study hopes to delve deeper into the connection between plants and sound.

They’re Alive!
Two trees that were thought to be extinct have been rediscovered in Africa. Erythrina Schliebenii and Karomia gigas were both feared extinct since the Erythrina’s last known habitat was cleared for a biofuel plantation in 2008 and the Karomia hadn’t been seen in recent years. However, in an expedition last year to try to discover if either of these species could still be found, botanists from the University of Dar es Salaam found both trees in a coastal forest in southeastern Tanzania. Of course, with such small populations, both trees are still under threat of extinction, but they’re alive and well for now.

Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, the home of the Masters Tournament

Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, the home of the Masters Tournament. Credit: John Trainor/Flickr

The Coveted Green Jacket
The most famous golf event in the world tees off today in Augusta, Georgia, but while the golfers are aiming for the iconic green jacket bestowed upon the tournament’s winner, spectators on the grounds and viewers at home will be treated to one of the most picturesque sporting venues in the world:

  • First, there’s Magnolia Lane, which leads into the course’s main clubhouse. It derives its name from the 60-plus magnolia trees that line the roadway. The magnolias were first planted back in the 1850s when the land was a plantation home.
  • Then, there’s the Big Oak Tree, also planted in the 1850s. This large tree sits alongside Augusta’s clubhouse and provides a luxurious, shaded gathering place for spectators and golfers alike.
  • Missing this year, though, will be the famed azaleas. An estimated 1,600 azalea bushes surround the course’s 13th hole, which is known as “Azalea.” But this year, thanks to the early spring, the bushes have already lost their bloom. So instead of witnessing the cacophony of brilliant colors during this year’s tournament, viewers will have to enjoy the greenery of the course’s Georgia pines.

I Scream!
Oh no! Vanilla production was way down in the last year thanks to bad crop yields, which means the price of vanilla is going up. This equals bad news for the pocketbooks of ice cream lovers everywhere.

What to Expect in an Election Year

by Amanda Tai

Conventional D.C. wisdom suggests that not much lawmaking gets done during an election year. Congressional actions leading up to the November election are being viewed through a highly politicized lens, which makes reaching agreement on legislation practically impossible. While Congress may be too cautious to move forward on any legislative pieces, we’ll still see some action on the Hill this year.

Credit: League of Women Voters California/Flickr

As I mentioned last week, congressional committees are knee-deep in the appropriations process for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Last Wednesday, American Forests submitted written appropriations testimony to encourage lawmakers to prioritize the funding of forest and water programs. With last December’s averted government shutdown still fresh in my memory, I can only hope that Congress will reach some kind of agreement on the budget before the November election. Aside from the onerous task of appropriations, the temporary legislative halt will allow Congress to focus more on field hearings and agency programs.

Field hearings give members of Congress the opportunity to travel around the country to hear directly from local community stakeholders. Field hearings on the Farm Bill have already started and will continue through this month. Next week, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold field hearings in Alaska to discuss the effect of energy prices on rural communities.

For the Forest Service, it’s the perfect time to talk  with Congress about the new Planning Rule and how it will improve land management in this country. The agency says the new rule will work to address forest threats like insect infestation, wildfire and climate change. The agency’s work around the Planning Rule has certainly grabbed Congress’ attention. Yesterday, a House Agriculture Committee forestry panel met to review a recent Forest Service report that talks about increasing the pace of restoration in our national forests. The report outlines several actions that will allow the agency to increase restoration efforts, such as expanding collaborative landscape partnerships, implementing a bark-beetle-reduction strategy and utilizing the new Planning Rule on several national forests.

So while it may seem that D.C. is too caught up with the election to budge on legislation, there are plenty of other channels for moving forward.

Lasting Legacies

by Scott Steen, President & CEO

Happy Earth Month! The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970 and was conceived as a national day of education and awareness at a time when our waterways, air and wilderness were being despoiled at an alarming rate. As people began to realize the topic was too big to be addressed within 24 short hours, what began as a day gradually became an entire month of education and awareness.

For me, Earth Month is a good time to think about the legacy that has been left to us and the legacy we are leaving to future generations. On the wall above my desk, I have a row of photos of some of my personal heroes from the conservation and environmental movements — visionaries and activists who have left a legacy of stewardship that calls to all of us.

Wangari Maathai, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Mardy Murie

Wangari Maathai, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Mardy Murie. Credit: American Forests

There is John Muir, the Scottish-born, American naturalist and preservationist, who lived a life of adventure in his quest to better understand the workings of nature. He was a tireless advocate for the protection of the Yosemite Valley and other wild places and is widely recognized as the father of our national park system. Muir spent most of his later years advocating for the preservation of western forests.
“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” –John Muir

There is Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican war hero, outdoorsman and naturalist, who as president created 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 18 national monuments, five national parks and four national game preserves. During his presidency, he protected an astounding 230,000,000 acres.
A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.” –Theodore Roosevelt

There is Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the USDA Forest Service, close friend of Teddy Roosevelt and later governor of Pennsylvania, who is seen as the “father” of American conservation because of his unrelenting efforts to protect America’s forests. Pinchot was frequently seen as an adversary to John Muir because he saw conservation in terms of managing the nation’s natural resources for long-term use, while Muir saw wilderness protection as an end in itself. While my heart is often with Muir, my head is with Pinchot, and they both share space on my wall (although not next to each other).
“The purpose of conservation: the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time.” –Gifford Pinchot

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park, Alaska. Credit: Michelle Werts/American Forests

There is Mardy Murie, a naturalist, conservationist and author, who was instrumental in the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the passage of the Wilderness Act. Murie spent her honeymoon with her husband, naturalist Olaus Murie, travelling by boat and dogsled in the wilderness of Northern Alaska, conducting research on the caribou. It was the beginning of a journey that would take her again and again into some of the most beautiful and wild places on Earth. In 1998, Murie received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S. Her work continued until her death at age 101.
“I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by or so poor she cannot afford to keep them.” –Margaret “Mardy” Murie

And there is Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan professor of veterinary anatomy and leader of the National Council of Women of Kenya, who went on to found the African Greenbelt Movement, which focused on the nexus of tree planting, environmental conservation and women’s rights. Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting as a means of empowerment, conservation and poverty reduction. She and the movement she created have assisted African women in the planting of more than 40 million trees. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” –Wangari Maathai  

As we celebrate Earth Month, I invite you to think about two questions (and share your answers if you are willing!). First, who are your heroes and what is the legacy they have left us? And second, what are the little things you are doing to make a difference and leave a legacy of your own?

An Old-Growth Fortress

by American Forests

By Katrina Marland

This marks our first blog post in the month of April, a time known around here (and hopefully where you are, too) as Earth Month. Since this is supposed a time when everyone is more aware of the challenges facing our environment, we are going to use our Monday posts this month, plus Melinda’s regular guest blog, to highlight what we think are some of the most significant ways forests affect our lives: water, wildlife, recreation, urban forests, invasive pests and today’s topic of choice, climate.

Climate and forests are two things you really can’t separate. There are a number of ways in which forests dictate and stabilize a region’s climate. And there are countless ways in which the destruction of forests contributes to global climate change. I choose, however, to focus on the fact that forests may yet be one of the major players in saving us from this mess of our own making.

Old-growth forest (Credit: Miguel Vieira)

A recent study of Oregon’s Klamath-Siskiyou region by the Geos Institute shows that large, old-growth stands will likely stand against the planet’s warming climate longer than other areas and offset its effects better than most. The forests’ size, closed canopy and well-established location mean that they can provide a greater cooling effect for the surrounding area, preventing the warmer climate from turning snowpack into floods or burning off the fog that is vital to some coastal forests. The extra stability that these forests provide means that they can also act as refuges for species that are fleeing changes to their own native habitat.

That these forests can, in a warming climate, function both as air conditioners and oases for the local ecosystem is of great value to humans as well, both those who live nearby and those who don’t. As we continue to see in the environmental news world, each time one part of a system starts to fail, it causes a ripple effect that spreads far beyond its original range. This is why, for example, an increase in temperature atop a mountain in Wyoming can mean less water for crop irrigation in southern California. Everything is connected, and these old-growth forests may be our best bet to hold it all together while our climate is in flux.

To learn more about how climate and forests are connect, visit our Forests & Climate Change page.