Magazine article American Forests

Introduction: The 1992 Edition, National Register of Big Trees

Magazine article American Forests

Introduction: The 1992 Edition, National Register of Big Trees

Article excerpt

Now in its 52nd year, AFA's distinctive program to recognize champion trees is getting new impetus from today's environmental awakening. was planting trees outside Albuquerque last spring when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my foot. I took off my shoe and, finally, my sock but was unable to find the source of the discomfort. As a last resort, I checked the bottom of my shoe, and there was the long, tough thorn of a black locust. A few days later, in southern Maryland, I noticed the perfumed scent I look forward to each year-the distinctive smell of blooming black locust.

This little story demonstrates the ambiguous relationship we humans have with trees. Trees help to make our world serene and healthy, but their "care and feeding" bring responsibility. But as most of us realize, their costs are far outweighed by their benefits-environmental, conservation, psychological, and aesthetic values that enrich human life and, like a good cheese or wine, increase dramatically with age. A large tree brings a wealth of environmental goodies including broad canopy cover, the ability to purify air and water, and space for wildlife. A mature tree will shade a large area, cool urban heat islands, hold soil, and protect groundwater.

Our emotional attachment to trees also multiplies with each growing season. No one likes to see newly planted seedlings or young trees die, but the loss of a venerable arboreal friend can be akin to losing kin. As AFA's vice president for program services, which includes overseeing the Big Trees program, I hear that message repeatedly. For example, a woman called recently to report the loss of 14 old oaks in a nearby park to gypsymoth damage. She would have called earlier, she said, but she had to wait until she could talk about the trees without crying. Similarly, when I reported the death of the National Champion Coast Redwood (see "The Fall of the Dyerville Giant," page 18) to a faithful Big Tree Hunter, he was devastated.

Since the inception of the National Register of Big Trees in 1940, the American Forestry Association has promoted the program as a way to encourage everyone to appreciate all the values and benefits of trees. Now, with heightened interest in the environment in general, we have a fertile new opportunity to put this program to work. National Champion trees are worth protecting, not only as the largest-known specimens of their species but also because of the environmental values all trees of great size or other distinction bring to us, and because of the link they provide with our past and to our future.

One legislative example of this recognition of the value of significant trees comes from Maryland. That state recently passed a "state-of-the-art" tree bill that protects not only current national and state champions but also Maryland's future champs! Any tree within 75 percent of the size of a state or national champion is protected so that it too can grow to champion size. This state takes its trees seriously.

Champion trees, wherever they grow, are indicators of good environmental conditions. On a global scale, trees and forests are barometers of environmental health, or lack of it. Like the canaries that warned early miners of unsafe conditions underground, trees often reveal the first visible signs of environmental distress. One example is the decline of the Black Forest in Germany that signaled the damage from acid precipitation.

It may be said, then, that a city, state, or nation that values its trees and forests places a high priority on environmental quality. In this way, the National Register of Big Trees program is a symbol of the environmental quality humans must ensure for all trees, to the benefit of all the species that share this planet Earth. …

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