150 club   Robert Leverett
  Dec 08, 2002 15:22 PST 

    After distributing the list of the members of the 150-Club I had reason to pause and think about how to prioritize future submissions. With the power of computers, we can generate more lists than Carter had liver pills or ever cared to acquire. We can move with lightening speed from a state of hunger through satisfaction, satiation to overload, and finally termination.

    In the early 1990s I dreamed of establishing the 150-Club, a club, the members of which would be white pines in the height class of 150 feet or more. I wrote about that dream in the Wild Earth Journal. I had a number of people write to me from around the Northeast and southern Canada wanting to join the club, or at least promote the idea. Those were wild and heady times. The idea then was fresh. We had confirmed one pine in Massachusetts to over 150 feet by approximate methods. We thought the pine was 154 feet. It was the Henry David Thoreau pine in Monroe State Forest. We thought it stood alone in Massachusetts. In the early 1990s, Jack Sobon and I remeasured the Thoreau Pine with a transit. It proved to be 152.4 feet. The earlier measurement had been remarkably close. Later we confirmed a white pine in MTSF to 155.6 feet in height. It was the Joe Norton tree. A second pine measured to 155.2 feet and that was the Jake Swamp tree. The year was 1992. We measured a pine in William Cullen Bryant to 149.7 feet during 1992. It looked like Mass has 3 trees over 150 feet. Then we hit the Elders Grove in MTSF and confirmed 2 more. They were the Tecumseh and Saheda Pines. The Saheda was 160.3 feet. Nothing could challenge this great tree, but alas it suffered a crown breakage.

    During this period, I hunted for 150-footers in Linville Gorge, NC and found what I thought to be a couple. Not realizing the there were incredible pines in the Smokies, basically, it looked like the population of 150-footers was so small that we could scout out all the candidates and form the exclusive club. The tallest pine I measured in those days was in Joyce Kilmer and using a dubious technique, I believed it to be 160 feet. We needed good measurement techniques and after 1993, Will Blozan and I struck up a partnership. We developed a method to increase accuracy that we called crown cross-triangulation. It came in handy. In August 1996, Will Blozan and I measured a white pine in Cataloochee to 207 feet. we were ecstatic. Based on how we went about triangulating the crown, we may have understated the tree's height. Regardless, it was at least 207 feet. But good crown triangulation was very laborious.

    Bob Van Pelt brought us into the golden era of tree measuring by introducing us to the laser rangefinder. Combining the laser and clinometer with the appropriate trigonometry ushered in an era of highly accurate tree measuring without having to use a transit. This opened up Cook Forest State Park to be documented much better. So gradually, Will and were able to move beyond the few 150-footers we had measured with either a transit or crown triangulation to confirm 150-footers in Cook forest, the Smokies, MTSF and elsewhere. Others joined us. The rest is history. We now have a heck of a team. Bob Van Pelt, Will Blozan, Colby Rucker, Paul Jost, Lee Frelich, Dale Luthringer, Jess Riddle, Jack Sobon, John Knuerr, Gary Beluzo, Fred Breglia, Michael Davie, and yours truly round out the team of super measurers. I expect that Tom Diggins is in the process of joining us. Bruce Kershner is now looking to buy a laser. I suspect that Larry Winship isn't far behind.

    We have the capability to find and measure many more trees of many species. So now we can compute Rucker Indices for sites and spawn tall tree lists at will. The technology has matured. But the idea of the 150-Club has lost little of its original sparkle. The image of the great white pines thrusting their crowns far above hardwood canopies is as compelling as ever. Whether there were trees as large as past accounts of them suggest, we'll never know. If most modern day tree measurers produce horrific errors and their measurements get published and circulated, how can we distinguish between fact and fiction in the older accounts? We can't. But now we have ENTS and our pledge to our supporters is that we'll never relax our standards in order to become more popular. We're not concerned with popularity although we won't run from it. It is just that we will not compromise.

     Well, I've rambled enough.