*** This is a reprint of the Guest Editorial published in the July 2011 issue of eNTS The Magazine of the Native Tree Society
By Don Bertolette
The Western Native Tree Society (WNTS) was formed relatively recently in the context of the original organization, the Eastern Tree Society (ENTS). ENTS, the creation of Robert Leverett, David Stahle, Matt Therrell, Will Blozan, and Mike Perlman, was formed in 1996 to reach out to a larger audience of those who revered trees in all their forms, whether in words, or art, or alive in the woods.
The evolution of WNTS was a natural extension of ENTS and another positive result of my long-time association with Robert “Bob”Leverett, going back to my pursuit of a graduate degree (MS in Forestry, 1993) from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. My thesis was using satellite imagery to identify old-growth forest ecosystems. Early on I met with Bob who was widely known then as an old-growth hunter/enthusiast, and soon we were often found rambling through the woods of northwestern Massachusetts is search of the wily old-growth. This was at a time when researchers were scrambling to find a comprehensive and useful definition for what Bob and I were recognizing as ‘old-growth trees and/or forests’. It was an exciting time, and much of our time was spent either in the woods, or in my case later, with computer workstations that were able to manipulate satellite imagery and geographic information systems (GIS). After the successful defense of my thesis, I returned west and headed north with my spouse Rhonda, to pursue our careers in Alaska.
I worked initially with the Chugach National Forest in performing an Information Needs Analysis for their upcoming Integrated Natural Resource Inventory, and the revision of their Forest Plan. I continued to have opportunities to further my use of remote sensing (RS) and GIS in classifying vegetation structure and composition in the remote and essentially undisturbed Chugach National Forest.
After our time in Alaska in the early 90’s, family obligations and educational opportunities enticed us to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. My academic interests and professional opportunities there sent me into the newly growing discipline of ecological restoration. After a year or so, I was working for Grand Canyon National Park, initially as a Fire GIS modeling technician and then eventually as a vegetation program manager in the role of the Park’s Restoration Forester. During these rambling years, I managed to find ways to reconnect with Bob and attend and/or present at several of his old-growth symposiums in the East. As Bob’s focus began centering on expanding ENTS to more fully encompass the burgeoning public interest in native trees, and the emotions and energies that trees evoke, it was natural to think of the western half of the US.
It was several years ago now that Bob approached me to gauge my interest in getting a WNTS forum/network going. This came at a time of my life when I was focused on retirement, and a move from Arizona back to Alaska to rejoin my spouse whose career had taken her back to the Last Frontier (a proud Humboldt State University grad, I retain close ties not only to my Arizona kin, but also an extended network of college friends scattered throughout California and the West) . I was interested and it seemed a reasonable step for me at this junction in my life to take on the task of forming the Western Native Tree Society. Like many new retirees I’m finding that finding something to do isn’t a problem; it’s finding the time for all the things you want to do, that is the challenge.
WNTS has been slower to take off, I think, because the West doesn’t share the same history of long-term occupation as the Eastern US. While I can’t quote the acres/square miles of designated wilderness areas in the West, it is a significant figure. Although popular, visitation for many of the West’s national park and national forest wildernesses, is probably much less than an Easterner might expect from their own experience, and because of the large scale, awareness of threats and change to the ecosystem is limited at best. . Much of the West’s original forested extent has been reduced in many cases to less than 5%, often outside the attention of those who share an interest in vibrant old growth systems. I hate to say it, but I think that we in the West, we take our resources a little more for granted. One of my goals during my membership in WNTS is to increase public interest and involvement in revering our wonderful heritage, our native trees. To that end, I recently accepted the volunteer role of Big Tree Coordinator here in Alaska http://www.akbigtreelist.org .
We have just celebrated our second annual WNTS rendezvous (the first was in Durango, Colorado in summer of 2010; and the second this year in Idaho/Wyoming). During both Rendezvous’, we identified numerous species’ maximum heights at the species highest elevations.
While still in Wyoming (in Grand Teton National Park!) we nominated our perhaps most notable WNTS member to the role of Vice President. It is with pride that we announce our new elected Vice President, Michael Taylor (shhh!, he’s a casual guy and doesn’t like a lot of formality). Michael has plenty of accolades in the world of big and tall trees having been involved in finding many of the tallest trees in the US, during the last decade or so. You can read about him in Richard Preston’s recent book: “The Wild Trees: A Story Of Passion And Daring” (2007), and recent National Geographic articles and videos on the tallest of redwoods http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... video.html .
Among the elite, Michael is working on a technique that with an embarrassing amount of geometry/trigonometry (for me, anyway) can quite accurately estimate very tall, hard to access/approach trees from as far away as a mile, I’m told. Any of us who’ve made the effort to accurately measure a tall tree in a dense forest will appreciate such a technique!
The growth of these two branches (ENTS/WNTS) heralds the re-titling of our organization, to reflect the broader expanse that we now embrace, with forum members in the Western and Eastern US, and an increasing membership in Europe. Current thinking is that an appropriate title would be the Native Tree Society (a title already in use in various applications of our organizations), to be known as NTS (which still has a hint of the Tolkien-esque reference to Ents, tree form creatures that figured prominently in Lord of the Rings adventures).
We in the NTS would be proud to accept western tree lovers into our fold (WNTS). Come share your thinking, words, images, dreams with us…you’ll find good company and good listeners for your tales and adventures!
President of Western Native Tree Society
Alaska Big Tree List Coordinator (please visit my website at http://www.akbigtreelist.org )