How Many Big Tree Lists?

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How Many Big Tree Lists?

Post by dbhguru » Fri Apr 10, 2015 12:46 pm


Is it time to resurface the discussion on the number of big tree lists we would like to see? What's on the table driving the diacussion?

1. The continuum of forms going from multi-stem shrubs to single-trunk trees
2. The dominance of multi-stem forms in the state and national registers
3. The American Forests budget for the Big Tree Program
4. The state of the rules and methods for measuring circumference for multi-stem forms
5. The opinions/desires of the public, big tree hunters, forest and tree professionals, etc.
6. The unintended consequences of instituting a more complicated system
7. The role of the National Cadre in settling disputes

There are other considerations, I'm sure, but the above 7 are the ones that come to my mind as relevant. I'll now address each one in turn.

#1: In his capacity as a key AF MGWG member, Don Bertolette did an exhaustive literature search on tree definitions and dendrological considerations. Don has drafted a change to the appendices to the current AF guidelines handbook. Don Bragg, also a member of the MGWG is reviewing the changes. However, everyone should feel free to present information they think is relevant. Photographic documentation and analysis of forms keyed to each species is our focus now.

#2. This is an obvious outcome of: (1) #1, (2) heretofore inadequate rules for handling the complex forms, (3) big tree hunters gaming the system, and (4) the natural outcome of competition. But the result is a big mess. I expect we all agree on that.

#3. American Forests operates largely through grants to run specific programs. Everything is governed by money. Expanding support services for the National Register requires funding. So, the money has to be available before the lists can be expanded since more trees means more reviews.

#4. Although we had rules in the past, they really didn't require the measurer to specifically qualify the form as a single tree or a composite of stems pressed together. So long as there was a continuous bark covering at 4.5 feet most big tree programs allow the measurer to stretch a tape around the form at 4.5 feet and treat the result as the measurement of a single trunk. With our new guidelines handbook, that has now changed. But with the change, we get questions and challenges. We're going in the right direction.

#5. The National Register requires public support. Without that, we're fooling ourselves about what we're doing and why. So whatever we do, we have to sell the idea to the stakeholders. The AF decision makers never lose sight of the public nature of the National Register.

#6. We've always acknowledged that big tree programs involve tradeoffs. That will continue, but when we've traded too much in one direction or another, we have to be willing to change directions. Too much complexity seen at the level of the public would be a turnoff to program support. We have to keep the front end, i.e. the exterior surface, simple. What's under the hood is a different matter.

#7. The group that will bear the brunt of any changes is the National Cadre. The more complex system of judging the worthiness of a candidate, the more that Cadre members will be called to arbitrate disputes.We currently have 16 full members and two apprentices. That number will likely take a leap between now and the end of 2105 as we put on our tree measuring workshops and beat the bushes for recruits. I could see the Cadre doubling by year's end, but there are 50 states and some will require 3 or even 4 Cadre members. I think somewhere between 100 and 150 Cadre members would give us the coverage we need. AF is working on a travel budget, but it may never cover all our expenses.

Some of you have advocated a simple system of asterisking entries when multi-stemmed. How complicated can it be to implementing something like that? Well, Don Bertolette advocated for that back in 2013 when the MGWG first began its work. The idea would be to have two champions listed if some multi-stem nomination outpointed the largest single-stem entry. We would still have to deal with the one tree versus more than one tree issue, which brings me to a point. Does anyone really think that a champion should be allowed to be two separate trees that just happen to be touching one another? Who thinks a champion should be allowed if multi-trunked, i.e. all trunks participating in the circumference measurement? If we have a form that looks like two distinct trees pressed together, most of us would likely flinch at the thought of that form being crowned champion. However, as the form become more complex and hard to classify as a double at the height being measured for circumference, opinions will differ. This is where pith tracing really earns its way. But at the conceptual level, I cannot see the fairness of giving some forms a free ride because they are complicated. That kind of sloppiness allowed the Ohio sycamore clump to be crowned champion.

As a concluding comment, the onus will increasingly be on the National Cadre to figure all these measurement-oriented things out. If we succeed, we'll probably be able to get AF to publish the listings we want.

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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