Preserving Giant Trees

Participate in the National Register of Champion Trees campaign to help document and preserve nature’s arboreal wonders.

| January/February 2021

Photo by Adobe Stock/Stephen

Did you know that trees have their own beauty pageant? Well, they do. In 1940, American Forests (called American Forestry Association at the time) spearheaded the National Register of Champion Trees to locate the largest living trees throughout the United States. The goal was to raise awareness of the importance of preserving mature trees, not only for their beauty, but also for their ability to protect watersheds, absorb greenhouse gases, and provide habitats for wildlife. More than 75 years later, this program is still running strong, with more than 700 Champion Trees registered to date. However, nearly 200 species are still not accounted for, and you can help fill that gap. All you’ll need is a measuring tape, a ruler, and a big tree.

You don’t have to look far to find one of these national champions, as all 50 states participate in the campaign. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the sites of a few Champion Trees, and, let me tell you, they’re impressive! I sat back and stared in awe when I considered not only their size, but also each tree’s age. Many of these champions were just wee saplings during the Civil War, with others dating back even further.

Now, you may be thinking you need to locate a tree like the famed giant sequoia in Tulare County, California. This beautiful giant measures in at a whopping 274 feet high, with a circumference of 1,020 inches! That’s big. But don’t worry, not all champions are so large. In fact, most champions would be considered tiny by comparison — they’re just giants for their own species. For example, the largest chaste tree is 24 feet tall and 132 inches around. It’s small by the sequoia’s standards, but huge compared with the standard 10-to-15-foot-tall chaste trees growing in most yards.

Consider the following rules when going for the crown. First, the tree has to be alive. Dead trees, even if they’re still standing, aren’t eligible. You’ll also need to determine if your specimen is an eligible species. The specimen must be either native to the United States; a nonnative but naturalized species; or recognized as a naturally occurring variety. Hybrids, unclassified varieties, cultivars, and ornamentals aren’t eligible. Also, you’ll need to determine if your chosen species is considered invasive in your state. Each state has its own definition of what qualifies as invasive, so a species acceptable in one state may not be acceptable in another, even though the register is nationwide. And finally, should the tree be crowned a National Champion Tree or a National Co-Champion Tree, it must be verified as alive and remeasured every 10 years, unless a larger nominee is discovered before then.

Take to the forests to find a tree that can dethrone a current champion, or to discover a species that has yet to be registered. Photo by Adobe Stock Kurlin_Cafe

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