Whither Goest NTS?

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dbhguru
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by dbhguru » Sat Nov 28, 2015 12:27 pm

Ents,

I'm surprised that there has not been much interest in this thread. It is meant for broad participation. Hope to hear from many of you.

NTS has a rich history of member contributions. However, our reach extends much further than these internal member discussions. Outsider researchers with the need can find important forest, site, and tree data that exist nowhere else. Courtesy of our West Coast friends, there is a growing bank of spectacular tree photos, and information about the challenges of protecting these largest and tallest of trees. Periodically, we engage in more esoteric discussions, with sprinklings of poetry, and of course, there is the purely science mission. We have our VP, Dr. Lee Frelich to keep us up on important studies/findings. Our President, Will Blozan, still climbs important trees to get tape drop measurements.

But organizations evolve over time and change their focus, and maybe that is happening to NTS. Excepting site-based and individual tree reporting, tree-measuring methodology has been on the wane for several years. That's a little sad because outside of a few super performers in the scientific community, and folks like Michael Taylor, who were there at the start, NTS is where serious tree-measuring, with emphasis on accuracy, takes place, and new methods are introduced, but the fire in the belly has waned. I'm unsure why. Maybe it is time for the baton to be passed and American Forests to receive it, but I'm not yet sure American Forests is ready, and I'm saying that from my AF role. NTS is still better suited to a wide measuring mission than AF. Unfortunately, our NTS posts scatter data across many forums, and as of late, things are getting even less efficient. Valuable tree data is appearing in chatty, social media like Face Book. No negatives to feel-good sharing with friends, I'm all for it, but I hope nobody thinks these kinds of social media can take the place of the BBS. If an argument can be made to that effect, I'd like to hear it.

In the meantime, I do hope the core group will continue to champion tree species and sites and produce dimension-based lists for science, history, and sport. To spur interest, how about some competitions? One contest could be a local Rucker Index. Say we choose a radius of 1/3rd of a mile from each of our homes and compute its Rucker Index. That might not make much sense for someone living in a city apartment. Those members could choose the nearest city park with reasonably impressive trees. I don't know - something like that.

As a start, I am updating my neighborhood Rucker Index, and presently have it at 116.2. Here is the list.
Screen shot 2015-11-28 at 11.39.56 AM.png
Screen shot 2015-11-28 at 11.39.56 AM.png (28.32 KiB) Viewed 670 times
Before the search has ended, the Rucker will be about 116.5, and just possibly 117.0. We'll see.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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ElijahW
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by ElijahW » Sun Nov 29, 2015 11:22 am

Bob, NTS,

To lend my $.02 to this topic, I really like the idea of individual species, or even family, databases, coupled with the very useful Rucker Index for designated areas. I agree that the BBS has taken a turn away from trip reports recently, and wish it was not the case. I understand the value of tree- and forest-related discussion, art, poetry, and philosophy, but I think the tree dimension data we've collected over the years is irreplaceable, while the accompanying discussion surrounding it is not.

I know the statistic aspect of tree measuring appeals to me more than some others on the BBS, so I recognize my bias, but Right now, NTS is the best reliable source of accurate tree measurement data available to the public, at least in the U.S. As an example, take a look at the most recent NY big tree list: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forest ... ampcom.pdf. Note especially the entry for American elm.

Regardless of the ultimate fate of NTS and this BBS, I'll continue to measure trees, because it's something I enjoy doing. Being a libertarian at heart, I have no problem if others desire to follow a different path, but it would make me a little sad.

As far as species databases go, cottonwood doesn't really attract me, but I could put one together for red spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, or some other species I'm more comfortable with. It may take some time, but I'm game.

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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dbhguru
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by dbhguru » Sun Nov 29, 2015 11:40 am

Elijah,

I really like the way you talk. Yes, the NY state list has a few problems, the American elm being one. Unfortunately, I've lost contact with the big tree coordinator. Maybe I can re-establish contact through my AF role. It would be great to have a tree measuring workshop somewhere in mid-state NY. No way I would do it in the Big Apple, but elsewhere in relatively uncrowded areas, yes. Absolutely, yes.

Elijah, forget cottonwoods. Go with your passion. That's where we make real progress. Red spruce would be great. But then so would balsam fir.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Matt Markworth » Thu Dec 03, 2015 8:39 pm

Joe wrote:
dbhguru wrote:I encourage us to reinvigorate our bread and butter measuring mission and it develop reporting protocols that make our data more scientifically useful.
Bob
This gets back to my periodic suggestion that it's important to state why it's important to get scientifically good data on tree sizes and ages. Not just because it's interesting and that the trees are beautiful.
Joe
Joe,

I'm glad that you periodically raise these types of questions because they are very thought-provoking. If someone asks me why I'm measuring a tree, I need a better answer than, "To see how big it is":) Beyond the enjoyment of measuring trees and beyond the opportunity for mental exercise that it provides, here are my thoughts:

Why measure and collect data on trees?

Because there is an opportunity to fill in some of the tree dimension gaps that exist in the field of dendrology/tree biology and if done successfully, this new information can then be used by scientists for various applications. I can think of several possible uses that scientists may have for this data, but I'm not a scientist so for me it's enough to just strive towards adding new information.

I'm anticipating that you'll ask for some specific examples so it could be things like defining the dimensional range of a species or tracking how climate change is affecting a species. Carbon sequestration comes to mind, and another one is assisting with conservation efforts. An example that I hope to be involved with is helping Venerable Trees(501(c)(3)) with their tree documenting/measuring effort to help with their conservation efforts in the Bluegrass.

Why go to great lengths to measure them very accurately?

Because without that level of effort and care we wouldn't have confidence in our numbers, which would undermine any attempt to present them as scientifically valuable. I also agree with Bob on the benefit of developing reporting protocols. This year I have become more disciplined by getting GPS coordinates for every tree measured, which I record on my own personal spreadsheet. I have also started giving a number to each tree that I measure, which makes it much easier for me to match up the information on my GPS, on my spreadsheet, and the file names for my photos.

Lastly, I think that it's quite remarkable that NTS provides what is essentially an education in tree measuring and also an opportunity to be involved in something that continually strives towards results that have scientific value. It's also remarkable that many of us are aspiring naturalists that have backgrounds in fields of study other than science and that we can still make contributions. We are always made to feel welcome by those that have a formal education in the sciences or in tree-related fields. There are other fields of science where non-professionals have made contributions, but overall I think it's pretty rare.

Thanks again for the questions Joe! It's a good exercise to answer them.

Matt

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RayA
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by RayA » Fri Dec 04, 2015 9:51 am

I don't know what kind of records NTS members are keeping, but it seems to me that, in order to have data that would be of value to science, the data gathered by all should be loaded into and maintained in a centralized database. And I think it would have to include a way to identify specific measured trees, such as GPS coordinates, so that peer reviews/confirmations would be possible. Also, if the reported trees aren't specifically identified somehow, then it's quite possible that either the same measurer or a different one could later measure the same tree and report it as a new find, thereby creating the impression that there's a greater number of trees with impressive measurements than there actually are. Without identifying specific trees, it would be much more difficult to track the growth (or loss) of a given tree over time. And if the data isn't stored in a well maintained database, then it's entirely possible that one day, when that widowmaker you didn't notice dangling over your head puts a decisive end to your days cavorting in the woods, your years of work will be lost to all.

I think that just reporting numbers on this bulletin board isn't good enough. How does anyone know whether the reported numbers are accurate, the species are accurate, or where the trees are, if they can't verify the data? On the other hand, I do realize that many NTS members don't want to give specific locations of their finds, out of concern for the protection of the trees, and I definitely share that concern.

But if I were a scientist interested in knowing the numbers, I would certainly want to be able to quickly access the information; I wouldn't want to have to plow through thousands of posts to try to assemble the (questionable) information. I'm sure that not every scientific study would need to identify individual trees; probably regional information would be adequate. But how would that be easily gleaned without location information being stored? And if one should want to do an on-the-ground verification of the numbers, he'd likely want to be able to locate the reported trees, rather than start from scratch.

I'm sure this has been considered by others already, but I haven't seen it discussed. I personally would be very hesitant to make public the locations of some of these venerable and vulnerable trees and areas. But if the goal is to be of value to science, the topic will have to be considered and discussed. Or am I way off the mark?

Joe

Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Joe » Fri Dec 04, 2015 10:09 am

RayA wrote:
(snipped)
I personally would be very hesitant to make public the locations of some of these venerable and vulnerable trees and areas. But if the goal is to be of value to science, the topic will have to be considered and discussed. Or am I way off the mark?
Is there really much to worry about indicating the location of the trees measured by NTS members? The odds are that nobody outside this community cares. And if some outsiders do care, they're most likely people who wouldn't be a threat to the trees. Many of the trees are in out of the way areas. Who would bother to go into such areas, then somehow damage those trees?

I agree with Ray that all the information should be in a central database- which then could be "mined" for useful theories and models.
Joe

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Matt Markworth » Fri Dec 04, 2015 11:14 pm

Ray, Joe,

I think you guys are right on the mark in raising these important topics. Here are my thoughts on them. In some cases there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, just my opinion.

Centralized Database: I like the idea of a database and think it should have controls on who has access to enter information and who can download the information. If someone has demonstrated understanding of the sine method then they should be given access to enter information. For downloading the information, I wouldn’t be comfortable giving anonymous access to the general public to be able to download a report containing the tens of thousands of trees that NTS members have measured. I think NTS officers would need to be involved for requests of large amounts of information.

GPS Coordinates: The sharing of GPS coordinates is situational. If someone is creating a tree tour for a local park district, then of course coordinates would be necessary. If private property or special trees/fragile habitats are involved then coordinates should not be provided. In general, I think it’s good to err on the side of caution and only provide coordinates when necessary and appropriate.

Peer Confirmations: I think this is important and falls in the category of demonstrating that the numbers are scientifically valuable. There are lots of examples of ENTS measuring the same tree at the same time and comparing results. As an example, I appreciate that Will took the time to verify the tallest-known blue spruce in Colorado this summer.

Same tree reported twice: This is an important topic. It’s up to the person preparing the report to be careful and ensure that trees aren’t listed twice. When I put together the list of bur oaks, there were three trees that might have been listed twice if I wasn’t paying attention. They were easy to spot, but it does take some care to avoid this situation.

Risk of losing work: This is a good topic to bring up and is up to the individual person. Some ENTS enter their trees into the Trees Database, so their measurements are backed up. In one case an ENT sent me the spreadsheet with his measurements so his work is backed up by me. As with anything valuable, it’s up to us to make sure it’s backed up and won’t be lost if something happens to us.

Scientific Interest: I think it would be very unlikely that a scientist would scour the various sites of NTS to try to collect data. I think it’s much more likely that NTS members would provide reports and individual measurements to scientists that they know. There are some examples of this in the Bulletin of the Native Tree Society. Spending time to get to know and having a conversation with folks in other organizations is another way. Mountain Studies Institute and the Colorado Tree Coalition come to mind as having some folks I’ve gotten to know to share results on the blue spruce finds. In about a week, I’ll also be visiting a private woodland pasture with some folks down in the Bluegrass and will likely discuss how I can help with measurements for the Venerable Trees 501(c)(3).

If we want to garner attention from a broader scientific audience, then it might make sense to publish more streamlined information such as something like Native Tree Society Tree Height Profiles. The profiles could include basic information on typical and known maximum tree heights for a list of species. The profiles could also include typical heights and known maximums for open-grown vs. forest-grown specimens. This would be a big step forward compared to what is in most guide books and could become a source that is commonly referenced in the future.

Those are just some of my initial thoughts on the topics and I could probably expand on them if needed.

Matt

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Don
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Don » Fri Dec 04, 2015 11:31 pm

Ray
You make a number of valid points, and I think one could wrap them all up in a common package. While I trust ENTS/WNTS/NTS folks intuitively, we are a rather open forum (do an internet search on Boogerman and see) and a modicum of security for the these trees so superlative as to warrant our obsessive measurement accuracies, it would seem to me, to be warranted. An email, a phone call to one of us should suffice, if only to assess a lurker for more active role in our BBS. While the ongoing coastal redwoods discussion is a 'different kind of animal', there are too many super-popular eastern/southern champions suffering girdling and other abuses.
In the National Park Service we were mandated to both provide access and protect the most superlative areas, a duality directly in conflict with itself, American Forests, and NTS by extension do also face the possibility of our public's "loving our trees to death"
Mark-
I think your comments about "Scientific Interest" is apt, and on our minds at the MGWG. We are of similar mind, and as the focus on the online Measuring Guidelines, the National Cadre Tree Measuring Workshops and Apprentice Program are more complete, we are certain to begin a focus on numerous items "of Scientific Interest".
-don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
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Bart Bouricius
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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Bart Bouricius » Sat Dec 05, 2015 8:34 am

I agree that it is critical to create and use a controlled access data base. I would hope that it can allow easy segregation of data by species, ecosystem or geographic environment as well as cases where, for example volume or other dimension has been measured more than once. I would propose that the officers select a usable well researched data base program, or piggyback on an existing database already in use by a compatible group, that has the necessary access control if such exists. I know some members have already examined systems and that we have already tried a data base with inadequate participation and uncertain usability of the data base for reporting from Central or South America for example. One additional segue here is that I would like some examination of the quality and appropriateness of different GPS systems whether separate units, or contained in cameras or cell phones. When the GPS units first came out, it was impossible to use them in closed canopy forest. Some still can not function in such an environment.

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Re: Whither Goest NTS?

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Dec 05, 2015 2:08 pm

I've been off the map for a little while for outside reasons but while I do agree that we need to bring focus back to site reports, improving the usability of our collective data, and targeting information towards professionals in timber and science alike, I might disagree here: "Members of the general public who live in urban areas are not likely to be interested. A few, yes, but most, no." I might have agreed a few months ago, but living now in NYC my perspective is changing.

The relationship between urban populations and their green spaces is getting to be a hot topic. Hundreds of volunteers turn out for annual tree counts, wherein individuals catalog precise data, street-by-street, on the location, species and condition of every single street tree. Larger portions of the city are covered each year. Many more become certified under a free volunteer-training program to actively care for their street trees. Forested parks, especially in a natural state, are more and more a source of pride and community care and concern, as more and more of the urban population seeks connections with nature and become clued into the quality of life implications of trees and green space. Neighborhoods are often very attached to their nearby parks and can be somewhat competitive, even. I see this in my current job with the NYC Compost Project- friendly rivalries to have better compost setups, pull more invasive species, etc. Quantifying tree dimensions accurately has great potential for engaging urban populations with trees, which will allow them to better understand and care about the implications of the forest management practices encouraged by the policies implemented by the legislators they vote for. Even if the proportion is minor, in a population of millions that's still a lot of people. There is also vast potential for citizen-science led case studies of tree health and performance in human-dominated landscapes, and how to increasingly green those landscapes. Data on the way those same species perform ideally in forest environments is an invaluable baseline to contextualize those efforts. Urban-dwellers who are interested in trees and forests can be considered an underserved market. They get bland, uninspired and inaccurate information from the parks department about the forests they have access to, which prevents them from getting as engaged and excited as they could be.

Our forests absolutely should be at the core of NTS's efforts, but I think that there is value in engaging an urban audience as well. I am in NYC for the time being either way, so I will focus on questions surrounding that. I have a near-term goal of coming up with a rucker index for Staten Island's forests and then hopefully the entirety of NYC. Tuliptree is perhaps the most charismatic and universally distributed tree of NYC's natural parks, so I am leaning towards a species database for tuliptree within NYC as well.

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