ENTS - We Are Tree Hunters
Members of the Easter Native Tree Society are “Tree Hunters.” We are a group of outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, climbers, adventurers, artists, and scientists obsessed with exploring the forests and woodlands of the world. Unlike the causal hiker, we are hunting trees. We are looking for:
1) Large and magnificent trees, the forest monarchs;
2) Ancient trees that exhibit the characteristics of great age;
3) And unusual trees with character.
On a broader scale we are hunting for stands of trees that:
1) Include a groves of large or exceptional trees;
2) Remnant patches of ancient or old growth forests;
3) Stands of trees that represent unusual assemblages of tree species or growth patterns, some of the elfin forests of stunted trees growing on exposed mountain tops might be one example.
One major goal of the Eastern Native Tree Society is to introduce others to the greater forest experience and to share with them the passion of forest exploration we all feel. We collect these trees by noting their locations and accurately measuring their size. If the height and girth measurements of the trees we locate do not meet certain quality standards, then tree simply can’t be counted as part of the collection. We use topographic maps, air photos, and GPS units to note the tree locations, measuring tapes to measure girth and crown spread, and a combination of laser rangefinders and clinometers to measure tree heights. These procedures for measuring girth, crown spread, and height are outlined in our “Tree measuring guidelines for the Eastern Native Tree Society.”
Why are we hunting trees? We explore these sites because we enjoy being in the forest. We are searching for big trees. We have the thrill of discovery when we find a big tree. Even if we don’t find a new height record, we always find something to pique our interest. It is that sense of discovery and exploration that drives us. We are those intrepid explorers setting out against the blank slate - exploring the forest marked "There be dragons here." A second factor is that with this type of field research there is a chance for an individual to make a contribution to the field. The tree hunter is not just another nameless cog in a larger machine, but has a chance to make a meaningful contribution to science on an individual basis. People have a genetic imperative to explore their world. Searching for big trees and documenting notable patches of forest allows the tree hunter to fulfill that imperative. The tree measurements are worthwhile in themselves as a scientific endeavor. The measurements allow the tree hunter to make a contribution to science as an individual, to participate in a larger cooperative team effort, and to give back to the community. They also serve as a validation to the individual of their own individual accomplishments or accomplishments as part of a small team. They are something the tree hunter can point at and say. “I explored that patch of forest, I measured that tree.”
What can we learn from our efforts? Mankind has been associated with trees and forests since they first existed and have been utilizing trees that entire time. We have learned volumes about growing trees and timber production. But there is still much we do not know. We have been using basic forestry measuring trees for wood volume for hundreds of years, and these measurements are adequate for those purposes. However, even today we do not have height measurement data that is accurate enough to characterize how tree height changes within a species with variations in latitude or elevation. We do not know how large many common species of tree can grow to be. We have even less of an idea of the maximum age that can be reached for all but a handful of tree species. You can’t hope to understand the broader processes that are taking place in our forests if the only information you have on the forest are productivity estimates for the commercially valuable fraction of the tree species that might be present in that forest. You can’t properly manage or conserve a resource if you do not understand what it is that you are managing. Recently ENTS members documented the largest eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadiensis) ever found in the GSMNP in western North Carolina. Most of these trees have since succumbed to the invasive insect the hemlock wooly adelgid. The government and private landowners can not hope to manage forest resources adequately in the face of invasive insects, diseases, and similar threats if all we know about them is timber production statistics. Our data can help answer some of these questions.
We share much in common with groups interested in geocaching, with peak baggers, and hikers, but with our own twist. We are not trying to locate caches of items hidden by others, and found by hundreds of others before us, we are trying to find our own big trees and find our own unique patches of forest. Sure we share our finds with other tree hunters, but the overall goal is exploration of the new rather than the repetition of what others have done. Peak baggers are climbing mountains and locating impressive faces and vistas from topo maps and air photos. The go out into the field and capture these locations. Tree hunters share much of the same process. We talk to people and our over maps and air photos trying to find patches of old growth forest to visit. The difference is that when we go out into the field, we are always unsure of what we will find in terms of trees, whether we will find an ancient giant, or young grove regrown after the latest round of logging. Peak baggers know they will find a mountain peak. Hikers enjoy the walks through the forest, the scenes before them. They may take photos or simply commune with the forest and the feeling of the primordial. Tree hunters share these experiences. Perhaps more of the hiking for tree hunters is off the trail, but the experiences are similar. Tree hunters also bring back measurements and similar information about the places they visit. This is something that can be shared with others and archived for the future. The degree to which an individual simply experiences the forest versus the number of measurements they might take varies from trip to trip and from individual to individual. But the process of mentally cataloging the forest allows one to see things that otherwise would pass unnoticed, and brings forth a deeper, or at least different, connection with forest than is achieved through a casual passage along a hiking trail.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky
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- James Parton