Strategies for Monitoring Trees    Robert Leverett
   Jun 20, 2002 18:43 PDT 

    Today Jani and I drove out to Pascommuck to see how the twin sycamores
are doing. I wanted to check on their growth, but I can't see the base of
eithere tree this time of year. It struck me that I'm not being very
inventive. The trees' shapes are distinctive. That gave me an idea. In the
winter, I should have measured each tree from the base to a recognizable
point and made a sketch or taken a photo to identify the point afterward.
Thereafter, I could simply measure the distance from the known point to the
crown and add the previously determined distance to the base. A simple
sketch of the crown would allow me to better recognize breakages and new
growth. I could then develop a living profile of the tree and begin to
observe how these biggest and oldest trees lose and then regain height.

    Of course this approach requires a considerable investment in time for
each individually profiled tree, but what the heck? That is what ENTS is all
about. We can't leave it to others to do as we've so often found out. As
another illustration, what follows is the text of a recent e-mail from Colby

Had a good outing with Karen Fedor yesterday; measured a big white oak near
here in Arnold which we thought would be the state champion. Today Karen
relayed a Baltimore Sun article - the state has declared a Harford Co. tree
the new champion: 388.75 points. We came up with 381.3 for our local tree.
I suggested that Karen, officially searching for a new national champion,
might ask that we be part of a select committee to take an accurate
measurement of both trees to settle any dispute.

This seems especially appropriate since the article pointed out that a
Calvert Co. white oak is no longer in the running. Listed as 158 feet tall
on the state list, it's been remeasured - 96 feet tall. Is that a new
record? An error of 62 feet? 64.6% over actual height?

That 149 foot white oak on the 1990 Md. list seemed bad enough - but that
was only 44.5 feet over my measurement of 104.5 (42.6% over).

So, even though that Harford County tree is listed at a fairly reasonable
102 feet, it might be only 75, for all we know. After all, the state always
inflated the height of the Wye Oak above its 87 foot height: 95, 102, 112,
and lastly, 96.

Looks like an opportunity to get some good press for accurate measurements.
I'll see what I can stir up.

    Now, I haven't been on a good rant in a long time, but it is high time
we all acknowledged the horrifically bad measurements that permeate the
state champion tree lists as well as the national list. In the case of the
latter, Karen does understand she has big problems with the list and does
want to find a solution, but she is currently dependent on the state lists,
which are the biggest sources of the problem. We need an alternative to the
state lists where the state coordinators don't show some real interest in
accuracy and credibility. For example, Pennsylvania's list and process for
maintaining it is a joke. The problem is not limited to any one region of
the country. Yes, there are exceptions. For example, Georgia and New
Hampshire maintain good lists. But state forester Will Fell, who maintains
the Georgia champion tree list, is part of our group. He's an Ent. Likewise,
Chris Kane, who maintains the New Hampshire list, is an Ent. Bob Van Pelt,
who maintains the Washington state list, is a super Ent. He's the Lord of
the Ents.

    I'm sure there are other states that have capable list coordinators, but
many continue not to have. Why is that? Why are champion trees still being
ridiculously over-measured in terms of height? What's the real story here?
This is now the age of lasers. Perhaps most state coordinators consider
their champion tree programs to be low priority popularity contests pitched
at maybe a 3rd of 4th grade level. If that is their modus operandi, then
they shouldn't push their champion tree lists as being mathematically valid.
But they do. Why is that?

    What scares me is that I believe many think they are doing it right.
Others have little knowledge of the species they are monitoring and are
probably scared stiff of the mathematics. Well, some poor low paid GS worker
may have a legitimate grip at being put in charge of the list, but what
about those lists that are maintained by academics in college departments.
They screw up the numbers just as badly as any low paid GS workers does.
What is the explanation? Those SUNY folks who mismeasured the Grandmother
Tree in Pack Woods up in the Adirondacks made an error of 28 feet. That's
not trivial. Cut them some slack, you say. Hey, measuring trees is their
profession. Okay, we'll allow errors of under 30 feet. But then along comes
Virginia and mismeasures a tuliptree by 36 feet! Naughty. Naughty. But wait.
It get's worse. North Carolina mismeasured a pignut hickory by 67 feet! HOLY
SMOKES! Then there is the notorious red maple of Michigan, which was
mismeasured by at least 75 feet and probably over 80. Wow! A tree-sized
mistake and nobody called there hand. Well, that's not true. We did, but
we're Ents.

    Yes, there is a need to revise 'Stalking The Forest Monarchs' and get it
out to as many state coordinators as possible. We need state coordinators to
become "ENTS Certified". Hmm. Now how could we go about. Maybe we can work
through existing state coordinators, like Will Fell and Chris Kane, who are
already Ents. Maybe after we finish revising 'Stalking The Forest Monarchs',
we can have an eastern wide gathering - at where?