Walnut Creek Beech

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Walnut Creek Beech

Post by djluthringer » Thu Dec 17, 2015 9:04 am


In an effort to help train American Forest cadre apprentices, several of us:

Ray Bierbower (cadre apprentice, EES Presque Isle State Park)
Brian Gula (cadre apprentice, EES Presque Isle State Park)
Ed Frank (cadre member, tree raconteur extraordinaire, Ed also brought several of his cousins)

met at the Browns Run section of the Asbury Woods Nature Center in Erie County, PA. Our mission was to review measuring techniques taught at our American Forests National Cadre Apprentice Training held at Cook Forest in April, and apply them to a real world situation in the field, ie: one of the largest beech trees in Pennsylvania.

The tree is actually an American beech and currently listed as the third largest known in Pennsylvania. I argue it's the largest known forest grown American beech in the state, since the others can be argued as multi-stems or are growing out in the open. It is located at the bottom of a steep bank on a flat adjacent to Walnut Creek. The original picture and nomination of the tree can be viewed here:

http://www.pabigtrees.com/tree_detail.a ... 8193101257

We spent the day trying to find an accurate height, determining mid-slope, conducted a detailed volume calculation, and crown spread. Every measuring aspect of this tree poses a challenge, so I figured this would be an excellent tree to review a variety of tree measuring methods learned earlier, but maybe not to quite as much detail as we were about to get into.

The height is absolutely miserable to determine. I've been trying to get a good view to the crown and base of this tree since I first measured it over ten years ago. The best repeatable measurement we came up with was from the top of the ridgeline to 119.7ft, recorded by Ray Bierbower. I've got a little higher over the years, but the fine tops of the beech branches are not only intertwined amongst themselves, but you also have crowns of several maples and oaks to contend with.

Midslope... not easy, the tree is growing on a slope, with long rays jutting out from the trunk, and having a slightly irregular root collar on the uphill side. It was a good exercise and recorded a circumference at breast height at 16.8ft. In years past, depending on where I guessed the mid-slope to be I'd get anywhere from 16-16.4ft.

Crown... not so bad to get since there were several of us so we could laser each other as we circled opposite each other around the tree under the dripline using the cosine function to get straight line horizontal distance. The longest spread we could find went to 81.7ft.

Volume calculation... a bear since the base was a tad complicated with "trunk rays", trying to keep all the different numbers and diagram straight, etc. Also, the tree broke into two separate trunks at 42.5ft up from midslope. We used the macroscope 25/45 to get all diameters. We measured the south break to 76.2ft at which point it was 2.54ft across, where it broke into two large branches going off at wild angles. The north break we were able to get to 81.6ft up at which point it was 0.67ft across. Above these two points, the tree broke into a myriad of smaller branches going off into several different directions. So, we didn't attempt to get volume for the remaining ~38ft of branches to the top.

What we did get was the only American beech volume modeled in the state of Pennsylvania, and unless Bob or Will have done one in New England or the Smokies, is likely the only beech modeled to date by NTS in the Eastern U.S. Here's a quick look at some of the lower tree dimensions:

Height circumference diameter
1.7ft 21.7ft 6.91ft
3ft 18.8ft 5.98ft
4.5ft 16.8ft 5.35ft
6.1ft 15.5ft 4.93ft
7.9ft 13.9ft 4.24ft
34ft 10.6ft 3.38ft

We came up with a total volume of 745ft^3, or 8,940 board feet if all of the volume was marketable timber, which it's not. The bottom center of the tree is largely hollow and very punky. It's actually a miracle that the tree is still standing. We also found a conspicuous metal "pin" at the base of the downhill side of the tree. My best guess is that this is a surveyor's "pin" for an old property boundary, which would partially explain why this tree is still standing. The tree is also protected on two sides from heavy prevailing westerly & southern winds due to it being at the base of a steep slope which partially surrounds it.

Overall stat review:

16.8ft CBH x 119.7ft high x 81.7ft crown
342 AF points
745ft^3 volume
8,940 board feet

All in all, an incredible tree, and a great exercise to develop a challenging set of measuring skills.


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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by dbhguru » Thu Dec 17, 2015 9:31 am


Outstanding and congratulations! This is the kind of exercise that clearly demonstrates what the National Cadre is about. And that is one heck of an America beech. We don't see them in New England like that. I'm thrilled when we come across a forest-grown specimen that is 8 feet in circumference. Height, well, we have a few over 120 and one about 128, but I agree, finding the absolute top through all that gnarled twigging is a challenge.

Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by Matt Markworth » Thu Dec 17, 2015 11:45 am

Wow, what a great exercise and great example of teaching others. Bravo Dale! Bravo! Great tree too.

I'm going to start using a monocular soon and plan on getting more comfortable with volume measurements. A forest-grown bur oak might be my first subject.


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John Harvey
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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by John Harvey » Thu Dec 17, 2015 1:03 pm

Wow what a Beech! I've come across maybe 5 individuals in the 13-15ft CBH range but nothing like that one. In south Jersey I was made aware of a giant tree just before I left for California and I haven't had the chance to go and see it yet but I suspect it may be a similar size of the beauty you have here.

url]http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/ ... autologin=[/url]
John D Harvey (JohnnyDJersey)

East Coast and West Coast Big Tree Hunter

"If you look closely at a tree you'll notice it's knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully." - Matt Fox

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Will Blozan
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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by Will Blozan » Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:35 pm


Great work! You could add in conic projections for the unmeasured tops to round out the tree a bit. They would be conservative numbers of course, but would give a closer approximation of the total volume in trunk sections.

And dude- the Vortex Solo tactical reticle is 10X better than the macroscope (and cheaper!). Better optics, clarity and separate focus for image and reticle.


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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by djluthringer » Fri Dec 18, 2015 7:57 am


That's a very nice beech in that pic. We have very few here at Cook Forest that break 10ft CBH, only 3 in the 11ft range. We had one in the Fire Tower Road loop that I found dead standing at 12.2ft. Wish I would've found it two years earlier. Growing up in NW PA, we'd come across old boundary marker beech from time to time that would be in the 10-11ft range, actually hunted from them as tree stands for years. Absolutely love the tree, but their fine twigged tops make them miserable to get good heights on.


I hear you on the Vortex Solo. Separate focus for image & reticle, I like that! It's on my wish list, and will get one with a pre-approved grant once the Commonwealth moves out of their budget impasse. Maybe we'll have our new 2015 budget by the time the new 2016 fiscal comes around in June...

I was wondering about conicals to the top. I do that with conifers since their tops often look more conical, but didn't think we could do it for broad crowned trees. I'm all for closer approximations, so if I add the conicals for both main crown breaks we get:

9,817 board ft


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Larry Tucei
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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by Larry Tucei » Fri Dec 18, 2015 9:23 am

Dale- That is one awesome Beech! I have heard of some really large ones down here. The largest I'd ever measured was last year at Noxubee NWR it was 114' tall, 11' Cir. 6 feet above ground with a crown of 90' x 104'. Here is a photo of it. I hope to get up your way in the next year or two. Here is a photo of my Beech.

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Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by djluthringer » Tue Dec 22, 2015 7:16 am


That's one dandy of a beech. There's some meat on that baby. Most of our beech here have no succumbed to beech bark disease. The largest living in Cook that I know of are almost identical to the one you pictured:

11.5ft CBH x 110.3
11.5ft CBH x 112.3

They are in very bad shape, and will likely be toast within the next two years. The Walnut Creek Beech is clean, although with its heavy lean, I don't expect it to be standing much longer. Then again, I thought that when I first saw it ~10 years ago!



Re: Walnut Creek Beech

Post by Joe » Tue Dec 22, 2015 8:33 am

dbhguru wrote:We don't see them in New England like that.

I don't recall ever seeing that old bark at the base of a beech and I've been bushwhacking Massachusetts for half a century.

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