Magazine article American Forests


Magazine article American Forests


Article excerpt


I guess you could call it a "bus man's holiday." After years of involvement in AMERICAN FORESTS' National Register of Big Trees, there I was on vacation last August with friends and family, looking for national champion trees in the Great Smoky Mountains. My guide: Big Tree Hunter par excellence Will Blozan, arborist and former park ranger. I was a little apprehensive about spending the day with Will because I once sent a Wall Street Journal reporter into the field with him, and I don't think she'll forget that trip anytime soon. Maybe she had spent too long sitting in an office or maybe Will took pity on us, but his field tour was like a walk in the park. We were impressed by the number and size of trees in this easternmost area of the park. Massive pines and tulip-poplars towered above, proving you don't have to go to California to find cathedral groves!

I remember thinking that my feelings among these giants must have been similar to those that inspired AMERICAN FORESTS to launch the National Register of Big Trees 60 years ago. In 1940 Americans saw war creeping ever closer. France, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and others fell to Germany. Blitzkrieg intensified in London. But it was also a time of "firsts" in the United States: FM radio hit the airwaves, food could he freeze-dried, and M&M candy debuted in groceries. McDonald's sold its very first of billions of hamburgers.

One of AMERICAN FORESTS' firsts took place that same year when we launched the National Register of Big Trees. At first the program was simply called American Big Trees. By 1961, it was highfalootingly referred to as the Social Register of Big Trees. In 1978 we settled on the National Register of Big Trees. As the name changed, the list grew: from 100 champs to 355 in 1961 to more than 850 currently.

In 1940 America was a growing country facing impending involvement in another world war. The need for wood for the nation and its possible entanglement in war increased forest harvests on private lands. A concerned research engineer with Southern Hardwood Producers in Memphis, Tennessee, Joseph Stearns published his article "Let's Find, and Save the Biggest Trees" in the September 1940 issue of American Forests.

"One of the most tragic stories in the history of American forests is now in the making. It hasn't been written in its final form, but our children will live to see that day unless something is done. I refer to the gradual disappearance of our most magnificent remaining tree specimens," Stearns wrote The giants I have in mind are not necessarily the big redwoods of the West Coast; nor are they the well known famous and historic trees. Such trees are in the main well protected. I refer to the giants scattered throughout our remaining virgin forest stands..."

And he proposed that we do something about it. "Shall we sit idly by while this is being done? I believe that a few of our biggest specimens of each tree species should he singled out, marked, plotted on timber maps, and preserved. All lumber company employees should he notified that such trees are not to be cut, damaged by felling adjacent trees, or scarred by careless axmen ... So here is a challenge to every individual tree lover, to every forest conservationist in the country; to every forester; to every lumberman; to farmers; vacationists, to all who come in contact with trees."

Then he laid out his plan. "The first task, of course, is to locate the largest specimens of our major species--a happy task in which everyone going into the woods can participate. Then concerted action to bring about the protection and preservation of these great old giants. If an organization is necessary to accomplish this, then let's organize. Or, and this might prove more immediately effective, let every tree lover, every forester, every lumberman rally behind some established national forest conservation organization able and willing to fight for the preservation of our biggest tree specimens. …

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