By Liz Harper, American Forests
As our Champion Tree Archivist, Brian Kelley is traveling around the country to photograph all of American Forests’ Champion Trees. The project could last as long as a decade, as Kelley works to document all 700 trees.
In late November, Kelley set out to photograph the Champion Jeffrey Pine, a 173-foot tall specimen with a circumference of almost 23 feet located in a part of Yosemite National Park in Mariposa County, California. What he found there came as a bit of a surprise.
Kelley had been notified that the area where the Champion Tree was located wasn’t doing well. Considering the Jeffrey Pine he was going to see had only been nominated and confirmed as a Champion in 2018, he was anxious and eager to see what the tree and surrounding forest looked like and if it was still alive.
When he arrived on site, the area “didn’t feel quite right.” The canopy was thin and even from a distance, Kelley could tell the Champion Jeffrey Pine was dead. The once-proud tree was devoid of green needles and surrounded by mushrooms. Looking around the surrounding area, Kelley noted that it seemed as if there had recently been a fire in the area. Despite his disappointment, Kelley photographed the area and tree for documentary purposes.
Bonus! Listen to an interview of Brian Kelly from The Kodakery.
Considering his options as to where to go next, Kelley decided to go see what is anticipated to be the new Champion Jeffrey Pine, once it has been properly verified. Jeffrey Pines thrive in that area of California, so it would only be a 3- or 4-hour drive to Sierra National Forest. From there he would be able to seek out a Jeffrey Pine even larger than the one that died. The anticipated Champion is truly striking, standing at 184 feet with a circumference of more than 24 feet.
The tree hasn’t officially been declared a National Champion yet because it was nominated so recently that there hasn’t been time to confirm its status. Once it is verified by a state coordinator, the tree can be declared the new Jeffrey Pine Champion. Located in an area that appears to have been cleared recently, the Champion is reported to be in great health and will hopefully be around for years to come.
Our Champion Tree Register is part of an effort to recognize and appreciate the biggest and most impressive trees across nearly 900 species. Such trees are an important component of healthy forests, which makes them important to the heath of people and animals, as well. Unfortunately, Champion trees and non-Champions alike are threatened by fires, disease and invasive species. The trees that make up our forests are special to us and we want to keep recognizing and cataloging them. Help us continue to honor these magnificent trees by supporting the Champion Tree Program today.