NEBRASKAland July 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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Page 67 of 79

68 NEBRASKAland • JULY 2016 I n the northwestern corner of the state stands one ponderosa pine tree among many. With a trunk that splits into two beams about 20 feet from the ground and a notable absence of green branches on its lower third, it won't receive the distinction as the prettiest tree in the Pine Ridge. It has something else going for it, however. Since last year, the 105-foot tall specimen, estimated to be more than a century old, has been listed as the state's largest ponderosa pine on record. Located along Monroe Creek in the Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area north of Harrison, the tree's height is one of three measurements that make it a "champion" on the Nebraska Champion Tree Register, a program administered by the Nebraska Community Forestry Council, the Nebraska Forest Service and the University of Nebraska Extension. That big trunk, with a circumference of 11.2 feet, and its average spread of 43 feet helped it garner 249 points, eclipsing the 232 points of the previous record holder – a 75-foot tree from west of Lincoln that had gained the top spot after the previous champion, also in Sioux County, was among thousands that burned in the 2006 wildfires. Foresters Nick Zaczek and Fred McCartney, who measured and nominated the tree, took pride in bringing the title back to the forests of the Pine Ridge. Of more than 90 species on the register, no more than five are from the Panhandle, after all. Nebraska's many hardwood species grow better on the lush landscape at the eastern end of the state compared to the shortgrass prairies and butte country of the west. This new champion's location in the creek bottom positions it for ample moisture, while decades of growth have pushed its treetop to rival the elevation of other pines growing on the ridge above the creek. Foresters also say the Pine Ridge of Sioux County has an advantage over other pine-bearing regions of the state, and even nearby. Because of an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the region often catches more snowfall and other precipitation. ■ Pinnacle of the Pines A Nebraska champion stands strong. By Justin Haag This 105-foot ponderosa pine tree at Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area, which has a trunk four feet in diameter, earned the Nebraska Forest Service's distinction as state champion in spring 2015.

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