Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Largest Sitka

Largest Sitka is but a shadow of the old champ

Trees - The Cape Meares Sitka is striking, but smaller than the Klootchy giant was

Thursday, February 28, 2008
LORI TOBIAS The Oregonian Staff

Two months after the demise of Oregon's beloved Klootchy Creek Giant, the state has a new champion Sitka spruce.

Standing 144 feet tall, with a circumference of 48 feet and an average crown spread of 93 feet, the Sitka spruce at Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is the largest of its species in Oregon and the third largest tree overall in the state, according to the Oregon Big Tree Registry.

Compared with the Klootchy Creek Giant, which topped out at 206 feet and a circumference of 56 feet 1 inch, the new champ is a bit on the puny side but impressive nonetheless, said Brian French, one of two arborists credited with documenting the old spruce.

"The reason it is so small is that the top blew out probably 100 years or more ago," said French, part of a group dedicated to documenting champion trees. "At one time, it was a massive, massive tree. It was very close in size to the Klootchy Creek Sitka spruce."

The new champ is less than an hour's drive from the remains of the old champ, which sits in a small Clatsop County park just off U.S. 26 east of Seaside.

The old champ was toppled by the big Dec. 3 windstorm, but its days were numbered after a 2006 storm knocked a chunk of rotted wood from its core, creating a cavity 15 feet long and 2 feet deep. Word that the giant might fall any time brought visitors by the thousands and suggestions on how to save it. In the end, state foresters agreed to let it go naturally, which it did during the December windstorm.

That spruce was believed to be between 700 and 750 years old.

No one has put an official age on the Cape Meares Sitka spruce, but French believes it could be the same age or even 100 years older that the old champ.

"This one is in pretty rough condition," said French. "We have two trees left like it in Oregon -- the other is in God's Valley in Tillamook County -- and a small handful of trees like it in Washington. There is only a small handful of these in the world."

French and Will Koomjian, who helped measure the tree, learned of the Cape Meares spruce from a friend in Tillamook County, where the tree is known among locals. The new champ is easy to spot, sitting as it does at the end of the park's Big Tree Trail.

Designation as one of Oregon's champion trees does not earn it legal protection, but people are much less likely to damage it if they know it's on the registry, said Cindy Deacon Williams, program coordinator for the Oregon Big Tree Registry.

"Keeping track of the big trees is worthwhile because it sort of sparks the public's imagination to think about the weight of history that has passed since this tree was germinated," she said. "Since these trees got tall enough to cast shade there have been a lot of storms and a lot of fires. A lot of salmon have swum by in streams and a lot of fawns have gamboled around them. And all of that provides for us a context for the world in which we live.

"It reminds us that were are part of something bigger," he said.

Lori Tobias: 541-265-9394;

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