By Joe Duckworth, American Forests

Fallen Champion Pacific madrone.
Fallen Champion Pacific madrone.

We all love big trees. We love them so much at American Forests that we have kept a register of the largest known tree for each species throughout the country since 1947. While we admire and work to protect these champions, they are not immune to the threats that trees across the country face, including invasive species, fire and extreme weather.

The Emerald Ash Borer has made its way across the country beginning in Michigan in 2002. This tiny insect can devastate populations of ash trees, and champion trees are no exception. The former national champion green ash in Cass County, Mich., with a total of 395 points, fell to this invasive species. Due to the damage it sustained, the 98-foot-tall specimen had to be removed by the county.

As fires grow in intensity throughout the country, our largest trees are at a higher risk. The champion Pacific madrone, originally nominated to our registry in 2003, was devastated by the Soberanes Fire in the Big Sur area of California. The tree has been through fires before, but this one may have been the final straw. However, western trees are not the only ones at risk from fire. In Kansas, the national champion little walnut tree was killed in the wildfires the area experienced in March 2016.

Windstorms have taken many of our champions down as well. Just this year, we lost the champion longleaf pine to stormy weather. The North Carolina giant was more than 100 feet tall and more than 12 feet in circumference while it was standing.

While we can’t protect every tree, we must continue to do our part to protect these giants. By planting trees and restoring ecosystems, American Forests is giving trees the opportunity to grow and replace these specimens.

If you would like to donate to American Forests to help support our Big Tree program, as well as support the planting of new trees, which one day could become a champion, visit our Donate Now page.