Chronicles Of Measuring Champion Trees

Oregon White Ash

Ascending the Giants returned in late spring of ’07 to familiar terrain in our tree measuring adventures: Sauvie Island. The reason for our earlier expedition, the National Champion Black Walnut Tree, had brought us to the residential part of the island. This time, we visited a very different part of the island on a mission to find the National Champion Oregon White Ash. The grove that purportedly contained the tree was in the extreme north of the island in a huge wildlife refuge full of boggy, mixed groves of Black Cottonwood and Oregon White Ash (Fraxinus latifolia). As we bushwhacked up the west side of Ruby Lake, we were confronted with biting ants, mosquitoes, stinging nettle and huge blackberry thickets. When we located the tree, we found that its top half had blown out, presumably in last winter’s windstorms. Disappointed but not surprised, we took pictures and hiked out of the grove.

 

Months later, we talked to Portland-area arborist and international tree climbing champion Blake Thomas, who lives on Sauvie Island and knew of an extremely large White Ash located just across Multnomah Channel from the island. Excited at the prospect of nominating a new national champ, we arranged a time for him to show us the tree, which is only accessible by water. We met at sunrise that Saturday, loaded up the canoes and set off from the boat ramp on the west side of Sauvie Island. After paddling north up Multnomah Channel, we turned into a creek opposite the island and paddled up until it became too shallow and we were forced to dock the canoes. The tree was almost immediately visible from this spot, and our first impression was that is was much bigger than the old champion.

 

We wasted no time setting a line in one of the tree’s main trunks in order to get the height measurement. Once in the tree, we started to appreciate how little the tree had been damaged by the windstorms that had leveled virtually all the large Ashes in the other grove. This seemed especially surprising considering that the other grove was sheltered by larger Cottonwoods, which were not present around this tree. After taking a height measurement and a few quick photos of the tree’s structure, we descended to take more measurements. While taking crown spread and circumference measurements, we noticed what appeared to be recent tractor activity under the tree’s crown. Few people realize that almost all of a tree’s roots live in the top 18 inches of soil, and are very vulnerable to tilling or even driving heavy machinery in the root zone. This is especially true for old trees. We intend to contact the landowner, a major freight rail company, and persuade them to take measures to preserve the tree. We are hopeful that with its upcoming listing in the National Register of Big Trees, our effort will not be in vain.




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