Monday, July 06, 2015

Tree Hugger

by Valerie Connor board liaison/operations assistant 

Big, strong, dark and handsome.  I’m standing under a mighty Ponderosa Pine and it is my new favorite tree. The orange-brown color, the vanilla smell, and the puzzle-like texture of the bark are all so captivating. It’s the weekend and my husband and I are out exploring.  We end up outside of Featherville in the Baumgartner campground.  We set up camp beneath this pine, the canopy dense enough to create a circular open space at its base.  

Ponderosa Pine © Valerie Connor

Over the weekend, we get to know this tree and its inhabitants. The first morning we watch western tanagers flying in and out of its branches, flights of yellow and red flashing overhead, their fluty calls making us smile- so cheerful and uplifting.  Later the nuthatches flew in and nimbly scurried around the trunk, excavating for insects.  Gray jays swooped in looking for handouts. 

Western Tanager © Brian E. Small

Pinus ponderosa is a long-lived, common tree throughout the western U.S. They are drought-tolerant trees with a thick protective bark that can withstand low-intensity fire and have a deep tap root. Old growth ponderosas can grow up to 180 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter. The cones are 3 to 6 inches long, and take two years to mature. The bark starts off dark brown and turns to orange-yellow at about 90 years of age. Ponderosa needles are bundled in threes and they are five to ten inches long.

Ponderosa Pine thrives from Canada to Mexico and from the Pacific Coast eastward to South Dakota, an area that stretches over more than 35 percent of the area of the United States.  They make good lumber and were mercilessly harvested over the course of a century of railroad building and development in the West. Concurrently, fire suppression became the defacto forest management policy. Over time, the buildup of flammable materials on the forest floor resulted in hotter fires that the trees were not designed to withstand.  The combination of these two factors quickly diminished the forests across the Western US. 

Burned pine forest © Valerie Connor

The science of Forestry is well known, yet poor management practices persist today.  The Nature Conservancy is taking a stand for forests, offering resources, expertise, science and collaboration to help restore and protect our forests.  Find out more about our forest initiatives here. 

Back at the campground, we pack up. It rained overnight and the trees look vibrant in the morning light. The tanagers fly in, alight on a high branch and peer down at us.  We decide to stay just a few minutes longer and bask in the peaceful shade of the ponderosa.  I am drawn to this illustrious tree and when I wrap my arms around its trunk, I feel one with nature-just me, the ground and sky and my new favorite tree.

1 comment:

Recruiting Remedies said...

What a lovely commentary! I have a favorite Ponderosa Pine as well, on West Mountain. And I hug it too! They are such stately, almost wise, trees.