Magazine article American Forests

Championing the Champs: Big Tree State Coordinators Ensure That Champions Get the Recognition They Deserve

Magazine article American Forests

Championing the Champs: Big Tree State Coordinators Ensure That Champions Get the Recognition They Deserve

Article excerpt

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the National Register of Big Trees this spring, we would like to call special attention to the dedicated network of Big Tree State Coordinators who make it possible. State coordinators verify nominations for the National Register, and provide invaluable advice and feedback to the national program. We recently began profiling coordinators in our monthly e-newsletter, Forestbytes. Here is a larger sampling of these incredible people and the unique programs they coordinate in each of their states. For a complete list of state coordinators, or to sign up for Forestbytes, visit



Alabama Champion Tree Coordinator Brian Hendricks wanted to be a forester since the 8th grade. Hendricks grew up in the small community of Carthage, Illinois, where he fondly remembers fishing, going for walks in nearby woods and identifying trees with his dad. "I was fascinated by the different species," he recalls.

Today, as state coordinator, Hendricks has devoted hard work and patience to rejuvenating Alabama's Champion Tree program. In addition to his regular duties overseeing Alabama's Forest Inventory & Analysis program, he took over the Champion Tree program in 2007. Hendricks--with the assistance of Auburn University Professor Lisa Samuelson--was charged with establishing a new list of eligible species, as new guidelines mandated that only naturalized or native Alabama trees be considered. Hendricks was pleased to find a positive reaction to this change, despite many lost spots on the state champion list.

Hendricks is a strong believer in public participation. "The nominators are the most important people," Hendricks says. "We wouldn't know about a tree if it weren't for them." Most of the state's nominations come from the public, he points out; in fact, many nominated trees are actually discovered in people's yards.

To celebrate the nominators, when a new champion is found Hendricks sends out a formal letter recognizing owner and nominator, and provides a marker for the nominator to place at the base of the tree; the marker is often presented in a public ceremony. Because much of the state is rural, Hendricks says, the ceremonies often get local media involved and become an important way to bring communities together.

In the future, Hendricks expects that Alabama's popular Champion Tree program will only get bigger. "We just have a lot of interest. Often owners who aren't even aware of the program initially become very excited when they discover they have a Champion Tree on their property." One of his favorite things, Hendricks says, is hearing that excitement in people's voices. "It's something they're proud and happy about," Hendricks says. "And they should be."



Son of teacher parents who turned him on to the environment, he says, before the term was commonplace, Alaska Big Tree Coordinator Don Bertolette is a lifelong forester. Recently retired from more than 30 years with federal land management agencies--filling positions in such fields as forest engineering, resources inventory, and watershed management--and holding several forestry degrees, Don is also the co-founder of the Western Native Tree Society.

Even for someone with Bertolette's experience, though, the role of Alaska Big Tree Coordinator is no easy job. At over 586,000 square miles, Alaska is by far the nation's largest state: Territorial waters included, Alaska is larger than California. Texas and Montana combined. It covers a vast range of climate stretching from wet, temperate rainforests to boreal forests and regions of such bitter cold that it is impossible for trees to grow. Very few roads provide access to this vast territory, which means that hunting down Big Trees presents a unique challenge and can require the use of plane, snowmobile or dogsled. …

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