Chronicles Of Measuring Champion Trees

Cape Perpetua Spruce

With the December 2007 death of the Klootchy Creek Giant Spruce, the largest and most famous tree in Oregon, Ascending the Giants measured and nominated a giant spruce on Cape Meares as the new state champion.  In an effort to introduce Oregonians to this new tree, we contacted local newspapers, and several ran stories about the successor tree.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the land this giant tree grows on, issued a press release.  The publicity caught the attention of one person with a particular interest in the dimensions of the new tree.  Roy Gault, a writer for the Salem Statesman-Journal, contacted us to ask if we had been down to the mid-coast to measure the locally famous giant spruce at Cape Perpetua.  We hadn't, and the Oregon registry had no records of the tree.  Roy said believed that their tree was as big as, or possibly bigger than the tree we had just nominated as the new champion.  After looking at online photos of the impressive base of the tree, we agreed to come and measure the tree in two weeks.

The Cape Perpetua tree has an interesting feature to which it owes a great deal of its fame; the roots come out of the trunk above ground level, creating a tunnel underneath the trunk of the tree large enough for someone to crawl through.  Strange as it may sound, some variation of this is not uncommon with Sitka Spruce.  Trees sprout on "nurse logs," rotting logs felled by wind.  By the time the sapling becomes a large tree, the log has long since rotted away leaving the buttress roots above ground.

This presented an interesting problem for us: how to accurately measure a tree whose “ground level” is above ground level. To obtain clarification, we contacted American Forests, a non-profit tree advocacy organization that has run the National Registry of Big Trees since its inception in 1945.  They were extremely helpful, and told us that the proper place to measure the trunk circumference would be 4.5 ft. above the tree’s original ground level. In this case, that would mean 4.5 ft above the top of root tunnel, where the tree first sprouted.

With this in mind, we made arrangements with the local Forest Service office and headed down to the tree, which is near a campground South of Yachats, Oregon and just off Highway 101. The next day we walked to the tree around sunrise and began the process of setting an access line in the crown. The local rangers who we had contacted turned out to be invaluable in maintaining a safety perimeter around the tree, as several reporters for local papers showed up. When the points were tallied, the Cape Perpetua giant Spruce came in at 639 points, 104 points less than the tree we had nominated at Cape Meares.

Despite this, everyone who came out for the measuring was in good spirits. Most had seen and visited the tree many times but knew little about how it stacked up to other large Sitka Spruce( Picea sitchensis) in Oregon. We were happy be able to share our observations of the tree with them. Some of the more important things we noticed were that despite having a dead, broken top, a new leader is now the tallest part of the tree and is growing upward at a rate of about 8-10 inches a year, and that this tree is only an estimated 300-400 years old. This is relatively young compared to the Cape Meares tree, which is likely over 700 years old. It is likely given the sheltered location and good health of the tree at Cape Perpetua, that it will be around (and probably much bigger) when the Cape Meares tree finally dies.

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