Our Compulsion    dbhg-@comcast.net
   Jul 30, 2003 04:30 PDT 


   This last weekend's considerable time spent measuring and remeasuring the
Jake Swamp tree that led to the choice of 163.2 feet as the current height
illustrates the level of compulsion that some of us feel about 'getting it
right'. However, shouldn't the tallest tree in Massachusetts get a little extra
attention? Or is that status just a novelty or curiosity, not to be taken
seriously? Why do some of us lend such significance to gaining a high degree of
accuracy in tree measurements?

   Well, for one thing, we're filling a niche. With respect to getting it
right, we're the best, if not only, show in town. The problem for us is that
we've arrived on the scene a little late and find ourselves competing with
groups who aren't so driven as we. The big tree lists are fine. They serve a
purpose, but their understanding desire to keep the lists popular with the
public causes them to shun more rigorous approaches to measuring trees. They
don't want to see all the fun taken out of the endeavor. I have expressed
sympathy for this point of view and continue to feel that way.

   However, the gap left is not filled by any other group - so enter ENTS, and
enter we have. I wonder how many on our list realize just how much work we've
accomplished in documenting so many great stands of trees and individual trees.
As we gain more and more acceptance, others will want to join us? Should we
accept their contributions uncritically? It would seem to be the courteous
thing to do.

    The answer to that has to be no. In coming e-mails I'll explain why I
believe we have to keep the clamps on.

Our Compulsion-Part II    dbhg-@comcast.net
   Jul 30, 2003 19:15 PDT 


   As stated in the first e-mail, the ENTS compulsion to be very accurate on
tree dimesnions fills a conspicuous niche. Were we to relax our standards, we
could no long fill the niche. Our reasoning about our compulsion can be made
more complicated than this, at least as to what drives us individually, but
collectively, the niche is enough.

   With all the conflicting numbers floating around on big trees of the past
and on species potential, where can scientists and historians turn to get
reliable maximum dimension data? They can't get it from books on trees,
including otherwise authoritative texts. They can't get it from government
sources. They can't get it from champion tree lists. They can't get it from old
records. Plainly and simply, they can't get it. But in the future they will
have plenty of reliable data, courtesy of ENTS - provided we don't lower our
standards to accommodate enthusiastic, but unqualified tree measurers.

   We've had some good discussions on this list about different tree measuring
techniques and the fanatical among us, me in particular, encourage any with new
or better techniques to present them to us for consideration and testing. Colby
has presented his Rule-of-73 in this spirit. I do hope some of you out there
will test it and present your conclusions/recommendations. As Tom Diggins has
said, this list is quite a brain trust.

   Having tooted our collective horn, I acknowledge that we should never become
so confident in ourselves and so critical of others who differ with us that we
summarily dismiss what they have to say. However, with the tools available to
us on the internet, a few good diagrams are worth thousands of words. It
behooves anyone who challenges us to describe precisely how they go about their
measuring tasks and then be prepared to answer plenty of questions. This isn't
about politics, it's about the proper use of geometry and trigonometry. If a
simple, abstract mathematical model doesn't match physical reality, then it
doesn't. End of story. Forcing invalid models for the sake of perpetuating a
pecking order isn't what ENTS is about. We're about getting it right. Show us
where we're wrong and we'll change. That's fair isn't it? But ...... trying to
pull rank on us won't work. Yesterday's experts are no longer the experts on
accurately measuring the three common dimensions of trees. We are. We do it day
in and day out and we demand of ourselves that we know our range of error and
stand ready to prove it.

   Now back to my personal compulsion over getting the Jake Swamp tree's
current height correct to within a few inches. Back in 1992, Jack Sobon and I
measured the Jake tree with a transit from two separate locations and got
measurements that were within 1.75 inches of each other. Jake was 155.3 feet
tall in the fall of 1992. Counting the present growing season, Jake has been
pushing upward since the end of 1992 for 11 years. The average growth rate over
this period has been:

   (163.2-155.3)/11 = 0.72 feet/yr or 8.64 inches.

   This year's growth has been spectacular. Strangely so was last's. The dry
period didn't hit last year until well into the growing season.

   I could be off a couple of inches on Jake. The pride of Mass could just be
breaking 163 feet, but visual confirmation suggests the candle length to be
extraordinary. So for the present, I'll go with what my eyes suggest.

    Given that Jake is about 140 years of age, maybe 145, what does an average
upward growth of 8.64 inches sound like for that age to those of you who make
your living growing trees? What would you expect? Three or four inches per
year? How much volume is Jake putting on? These are questions relevant to our
current interests.

    The practical side to all this is that I think we are seeing growth rates
for older trees on our mature second growth sites that suggest value growth for
much longer than heretofore thought.