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LiDAR and Liriodendrons - Deep Creek Watershed


I spent a few days with my Dad in the Deep Creek watershed in the Smokies this past weekend and we found some notable trees that might be of interest to ENTS.

As a first-time poster, I should introduce myself first. I'm a graduate student at UNC in their Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology. My research regards forest growth rates on abandoned agricultural lands in Eastern North Carolina, and I'm using the State LiDAR dataset for my research. I've had plans to go backpacking with my Dad in the Smokies for a while, and I decided to extract some tall-tree LiDAR points near our route and bring a tape and clinometer along. I told my dad we'd be doing some "recreational research".

After setting camp on Saturday afternoon, we wandered up Fork Ridge Trail to the first point that I had picked out, which indicated canopy heights of 189' only a few hundred meters from the trail on a steep hillside. After sliding off the ridge we quickly transitioned from the short Quercus montana - Kalmia latifolia ridgetop through a thicket of Rhododendron to a small rich cove dominated by Liriodendron and Aesculus. At the center of the bowl-shaped cove was a small seep lined by giants - even for oldgrowth standards. Five large Liriodendrons >12' cbh towered above the surrounding forest.


We took three height measurements on the largest of the giants, an 18.4' cbh tree with a flawlessly straight bole unbranched to at least 80 feet. Not bringing a laser rangefinder with us, we were limited to using the Tangent-baseline method with a slope correction on the baseline for our heights. All of our measurements came in above 195' (averaging a marginally-unbelievable 201.9')


The next day we dropped down into the Left Fork watershed to hunt a few more points. After battling Rhododendron for two hours we finally got to another giant Liriodendron about 150m from Left Fork Deep Creek. This one had a LiDAR estimated height of 196', but our measurements showed it was a bit more modest 167' - 171' in height and 17.1' cbh. Its slope position probably accounted for the LiDAR overshoot.

LiDAR also indicated a small grove of trees > 170' near the confluence of Left Fork Deep Creek and Hermit Branch, but after bushwhacking down there we were disappointed to find That they were all hemlocks, dead as a doornail and dropping limbs in the stiff breeze. We didn't dally to measure these dead behemoths -- a bit too risky.


On our way back to camp we stumbled on a wonderful 16.4' cbh Northern Red Oak on the eastern bank on Left Fork Deep Creek. It was late in the day so we didn't have a chance to get a height for it. Impressive nonetheless. At the end of the day, we felt like we had just scratched the surface as far as tall trees in Left Fork of Deep Creek. There were at least a dozen LiDAR points > 170' in the lower part of the watershed that we didn't get a chance to visit. These areas would be challenging to access, but more giants may be in store.


Even considering our lack of laser equipment, I think the 'Fork Ridge Poplar' that we found on Saturday deserves a revisit. Our measurements put it (at least) in the same neighborhood as the current champion Liriodendron measured by Will in 2008. I'd love to come back with some more experienced ENTS and/or some better equipment for a second look.

Ian Breckheimer
by ianb
Wed May 26, 2010 6:31 pm
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