Posted: Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:54 pm
by dbhguru
Ed, Matt, Don, et. al.,

I think we all recognize that applying one formula to capture "bigness" in tree form, given the wildly differing shapes, produces mixed results at best. However, it is my perception that most big tree competition participants continue to want a simple measurement/evaluation process. While the National Cadre is doing its best to honor this wish, I doubt if we can continue the one size fits all approach that we've been using. Something has to give.

In the 1920s, a Maryland Forester created the big tree competitions, and from Sheri Shannon's research, he weighted the big tree formula to reduce the impact of open-grown trees. He was attempting to call attention to forest-grown forms and the loss of those big single-trunk trees with their precious genetic heritage. The Maryland competition became nationalized in 1940, and evolved into what we have today. Were that Maryland forester to come back and see many of the trees that are presented as champions of their species in the National Register, I don't think he'd be a happy camper.

As we have extended the big tree competitions to tropical forms, we have recognized that there needs to be an expansion of the measuring process to cover their forms/shapes by creating parity with more conventional forms. We are moving in that direction satisfactorily, but mainly with respect to tropical forms that have huge buttress roots, below and a single trunk above. Species like banyans with their complex aerial root systems elude us.

Outside the tropics, we still need to agree on which species express themselves through multiple shape changes over time, leaving us to judge if we have one or multiple trees. We want to be able to better distinguish coppices from trees that started separately. Then of course, there are forms that represent both. I think several of those have made it into the National Register and leave us scratching our heads. Don has done a yeoman's job offering exercises to get input from the participants on where they stand on about 50 or 51 trees/tree-forms in the National Register. We need to see how we individually and collectively evaluate these problematic champions.

I try to stay flexible, but so far, arguments for accepting, as one, multiple trees that over time become joined at the root collar are not persuasive to me. This means that I would vote no on the California live oaks national champion. However, while I have a voice, I'm only of many who does. Who are the others? The National Coordinator (presently, we don't have one), the National Cadre members, and the state coordinators. These are the main players. Don and I are presently communicating with as many of these folks as we can. Actually, it is Don who has been doing the heavy lifting. My time is more devoted to methods of measuring and establishing parity.

Over the coming months, we will periodically revisit the origins of the big tree competitions, the factors that we want to consider today, and very importantly how we want to weight them (do we like ugly trees?). We're going to be at resolving the single versus multi-stem debate for a long time. NTS is not a direct player, but an important indirect one. After all, the National Cadre was born from NTS. So, we'll continue using the NTS BBS as an important discussion forum on the subject. It may eventually come down to voting involving the three parties mentioned above.